Catholic Church has school's back on firing

Sandusky Central Catholic School's forced resignation gains national attention, outraged alumnus creates blog to follow story.
Alissa Widman Neese
Jan 13, 2014

The Catholic Church broke tradition Monday, releasing an official statement in support of a band and choir director's recent departure from Sandusky Central Catholic School.

Meanwhile, a group of outraged alumni are assembling on a blog and social media, expressing support and aiming to springboard the story to national media outlets.

Brian Panetta, who was in his fifth year of employment with Sandusky Central Catholic School, was forced to resign this past week after announcing plans to pursue a gay marriage next year.

He initially received an unsigned letter of termination indicating he was fired, but school officials and representatives from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, which oversees the school, later agreed he could resign.

Click here for all Register coverage of this story.

Panetta, who identifies as Catholic, plans to marry his fiancé in July 2015.

A newly created blog, hirebrianback.blogspot.com, is advocating for Panetta's rehire. It also links to a change.org petition, which netted more than 200 signatures and supportive comments in its first day.

"Everyone loved him, even people who aren't in favor of gay marriage, because they loved him as a person and a teacher," said alumnus Fred Staffeld, who is managing the new blog from Washington D.C. "We're outraged by the hypocrisy. Instead of firing others who are breaking rules, they only fired somebody who was just upfront and honest about who he is."

Staffeld graduated from St. Mary Central Catholic High School in 1982, during what he calls the "glory days" of band, when John Kustec, now a Perkins Schools employee, was his director.

Panetta reminded Staffeld of a young Kustec, because he ignited passion in his students and more than doubled the once dwindling band's size.

When Staffeld received mixed messages about who was responsible for Panetta's abrupt resignation, and later learned the truth, he felt inspired to take action, he said.

"I've received some angry messages about creating a circus of this," Staffeld said. "If this school didn't want a circus, it shouldn't have discriminated in 2014. It's going to create a firestorm."

The story has since picked up national attention, most recently being featured on Advocate.com and LGBTQ Nation, two of the world's largest websites for gay rights news.

Panetta issued a public statement about the matter Friday, which permitted the Catholic Diocese of Toledo to respond today, according to its statement. The diocese typically doesn't comment on personnel matters, in order to protect individuals, it said.

"In light of the Church's clear teaching on sacred marriage and the fact that Mr. Panetta himself has publicly indicated his marriage plans are contrary to Church teachings and are the issue at the heart of this matter, the leadership of Sandusky Central Catholic School properly determined that his employment could not continue," the diocese stated. 

"When Sandusky Central Catholic School informed the diocese of the situation, the diocese fully concurred it was the correct decision and in keeping with the terms of his teacher-minister contract," it concluded.

Click here to read the full statement.

The statement offers little, if any, new insight, as the diocese's spokeswoman offered a brief comment this past week, in which she also stated Panetta's forced resignation was a "local decision," and the diocese only offered consultation.

All Sandusky Central Catholic School employees sign a contract stating they will live a lifestyle according to the Catholic faith.

After he became engaged on Christmas Day, Panetta told school principal Melody Curtis about his wedding plans, anticipating the pair would agree an end-of-the-year resignation would be the most appropriate way to ensure no conflicts resulted. He received his letter of termination later that night.

His five-year relationship with his now-fiancé, Nathan David, was not a secret, as David often attended school events and met several students and their families, Panetta said.

Panetta has no plans to take any legal action against Sandusky Central Catholic School.

He cares deeply for the school, its faculty and its students, and only wants to perpetuate the truth about why he can no longer teach them, he said.

He is currently a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. He plans to graduate in May and seek employment elsewhere, possibly near his hometown in North Carolina, or David's hometown in Illinois.

Sandusky Central Catholic School issued a news release this past week about the matter, simply stating Panetta had resigned. It also provided a link to Panetta's statement, in which he called himself a "proud and gay Catholic."

 

Other Catholic school firings circulate in national media

Sandusky Central Catholic School's forced resignation of its gay band and choir director addresses a hot-button issue constantly circulating in national media.

On Friday, the same day Panetta issued a statement about his resignation, Michael Griffin, a gay teacher at a Catholic school in Pennsylvania, was fired after filing for a marriage license with his partner. 

The pair had a civil union and the teacher wore a ring, and as with Panetta, school administrators knew he was gay. 

Their relationship didn't become a problem until Griffin emailed school administrators about his marriage license, which they interpreted as a public statement.

Earlier this month, Mark Zmuda, a gay vice principal in Washington, was also fired for marrying his partner. School officials suggested Zmuda get a divorce to keep his job, but he rejected the idea, he said.

Students have rallied in support of Zmuda and actively protested his departure, staging a sit-in and then walking out in solidarity, effectively shutting down their school. They have also rallied a social media campaign and crafted an online petition with now more than 32,000 signatures.

The most prominent firing case in Ohio involved a Catholic school in Columbus, whose officials fired lesbian teacher Carla Hale for listing her female partner in her mother's obituary in The Columbus Dispatch this past year.

Comments

sugar

Oops my reply went to the end, please read. And find something else to do to assuage your anger, dear. Your debate skills are not so good, when you attack or make it personal you lose the argument.

Dcfred20036

Lets hope, for the sake of consistency, the school punishes all "sins" equally. I have a feeling Ms. Curtis will be receiving tips regarding employees who are in violation of the so-called contract. It seems that the "Catholic lifestyle" is a very relative term.

Dcfred20036

The story is on USAtoday online- has footage of the band, choir. National.

John Harville

And it's beautiful!
What an amazing man and what amazing things he accomplished with the choirs and band.

Nemesis

This is an interesting discussion, in that so few have actually considered the nature of what they're discussing.

What's really going on here? A PRIVATE organization, with which no one is forced to associate, has a foundational belief that certain forms of sexual expression are not morally acceptable. To that end, they require those who teach in their institutions set an example consistent with that belief. They don't take action on this policy until confronted with glaring and flagrant evidence of violation.

Some rather vitriolic objections have been raised to various aspects of this story:

-There are those who are angry that this organization dares to hold such beliefs, especially in an era when popular culture believes otherwise. Perhaps these people would be more comfortable in a country where everyone is forced to agree in lockstep with the currently fashionable beliefs.

-There are those who are angry because these beliefs constrain sexual expression. ALL reasonable people believe that some sexual expression falls outside the bounds of morality, whether based on questions of consent, the age of the participants, the familial relationship of the participants, whether the participants are married (and whether to each other), whether love is involved, etc. Is no one allowed to draw this line at a different point than you?

-There are those who just hate religion, and most of those do so primarily because religion has rules that limit peoples' access to sexual gratification. Is that a golden calf in your pants or are you just feeling randy?

All in all, the level of logic displayed is pretty dismal. Look, if you don't like what they believe, then don't join, don't attend, and don't associate - it's a free country. But just as you are free not to associate with them for failing to live by your morality, they are free not to associate with him because of his divergence from their morality.

It's telling that so many people are expressing so much outrage on behalf of a man who isn't expressing it himself. Maybe you should all work on your own issues.

Look, I would expect an Orthodox Hebrew school to fire a teacher who drove a car on Saturday. I would expect a Mormon school to fire a teacher who drank alcohol. I would expect a Madrassa to fire a teacher who ate pork or drew pictures of Mohammed. I would also understand if any of these institutions chose to ignore some violations of these policies as long as the individuals involved were discreet enough to foster some ambiguity as to whether they were actually happening. All these activities currently enjoy more Constitutional protection and broad cultural acceptance than the conduct in question here. If you're not willing to adhere to a philosophy in your personal life, don't take a job from an organization for which that philosophy is its entire mission and reason for existence.

I'd also expect PETA to fire someone who went hunting on their day off, or the NAACP to fire someone who was found to be a member of the KKK. It's a little perverse to want a country where a man can divorce his wife for burning the toast but a minority rights organization can't fire a man for burning a cross. Just because you have the right to do something doesn't obligate others to approve of it, embrace it, or celebrate it.

As for those who say it was a double standard to employ him for 4 years and now fire him, you're being willfully obtuse. The standard regards CONDUCT, not orientation. They were accepting of who he was until he took steps that wiped out any semblance of plausible deniability about what he was, or soon intended to be DOING. Now, was it a little disingenuous to look the other way until he held it up in their face? Possibly, but that's a question the school's leadership have to ask themselves in the mirror, and not really our business. Part of this being a free country is that each individual or organization is free to set their own standards and grapple with their own imperfect efforts to fulfill it.

sugar

Dissertations and esoteric postulations are interesting Nemesis, but few are reality based. Your thoughts on the double standards came close, we now have a question of ethics. But whose ethical standard? It is not clear in the contract, and no contract is air tight ( lawyers do serve a purpose),nor it is not clear in consistency of execution at SCCS or elsewhere in the country. You also state "(it's) not really our business", I beg to differ. SCCS is not a private school it takes taxpayer monies for several programs and the school is supported by tuition payments and collection monies from all three parishes. Thereby entitling those who wish to, and being in this free country,to question the actions of others who make decisions that affect the community. No?

Nemesis

It's all based on the actual reality of the facts, as opposed to all the emotion flying here. Brian isn't disputing that his actions put him in violation of his contract.

The school does not receive taxpayer funds. Students receive services from personnel who are public school employees, and direct benefits such as lunches, to which THE STUDENTS are entitled.

It is the business of the parishoners, and they should be directing their objections to their leaders. However, the Catholic Church is organized as a heirarchical organization, not a democracy, in contrast to most evangelical churches.

People are, of course, free to question the actions of anyone, but that freedom does not make their questioning relevant, meaningful, or credible.

sugar

And once again who decides what is relevant, meaningful or credible? Obviously there are many differing views.

John Harville

...and all your "I would expects..." are valid UNLESS the institutions you mention accept federal/state/local funds or considerations.

NOTE: most Catholic schools in northwest Ohio accept outside subsidies to pay some staff - music, computer, PE, etc. And there is that whole transportation issue.

As for CONDUCT... becoming engaged to be wed 18 months hence breaches no conduct the contract prohibits - other teachers at SCCS through the decades have gotten engaged, worn rings, shared plans, been quite public. Probably several have quietly lived together before the wedding - even been sexually active.
How does becoming engaged define one's sexuality. A woman's sexuality is unknown, perhaps, until she becomes engaged.
I've seen no mention that Mr. Panetta was publicly or privately engaging in unchastity.
So I repeat my contention the school contract encourages persons to be dishonest - or as you put it, to allow the school to maintain "any semblance of plausible deniability"
The sounds so much like the Church's position on pedophile priests.

Nemesis

They don't accept subsidies - for programs mandated by federal law, such as the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, actual public school employees provide services directly to eligible students at the school.

Many private religious schools DO receive funds directly from the government, for example, a science or engineering department at a Catholic university may receive a research grant from DARPA, but that does not impact their rights as private religious entities. The NAACP gets LOTS of money from the government for various activities. Should they be forced to hire a guy who puts on a sheet and burns crosses on the weekend?

One more time, slowly for your benefit. BECOMING ENGAGED ANNOUNCES INTENT TO EMBARK UPON A LIFELONG COMMITMENT TO SEXUAL RELATIONS WITH ONE'S FIANCE. I welcome you to cite examples to the contrary.

sanduskymom

EXCELLENT post, Nemesis! +1!

John Harville

The fact you love it so much proves how weak it is and how lacking any foundation in fact.

This religious 'institution' in THIS area (it draws from more than Sandusky and Perkins) has chosen to take a stand without following the established legal protocol within its own guidelines (charge, hearing, appeal to local Board, appeal to Diocese, compensation pending appeal and final action).
However, does anyone know whether Mr. Panetta's contract was paid through the end of the year to get him to 'accept' his termination?
Fortunately, we who tithe, attend, contribute do not have to rely on Mr. Panetta to take action. We have free will within the Diocese to inquire, seek redress, force action.

Nemesis

Actually, as I'm sure Martin Luther would tell you if he were still able, longstanding Catholic precedent says your free will extends as far as the right to leave the Church and start or join another.

Truth or Dare

Yep, those with religious convictions, and that includes myself, have every right to petition our government for redress of grievances. What they do not have the right to do is infringe upon my life because of those religious convictions! That darn 1st. Amendment, a double edge sword is what it is. By the way, I also feel we have the right to address the leaders of our churches regarding their own hypocrisy! Should they choose to be hypocritical and "willingly obtuse", as I feel is what they've done to Mr. Panetta as well many others, that's when you find folks running, not walking away. I will not be "willingly obtuse" when it comes to the rights of others being trampled upon, nor will I support such hypocrisy through my tithing!

We can argue this till the cows come home, and regarding my faith in religion, I stopped being "willingly obtuse" some 38 yrs. ago.

Anyone catch the Toledo Blade's front page yesterday 1/17/2014? The front page article titled "DECADES-LONG SCANDAL. U.N. grills Vatican on sex abuses - Child-protection experts press for transparency" is rather thought provoking. All Catholics should read it! Just a few quotes from it;

"U.N. child-protection experts pushed Vatican delegates Thursday to reveal the scope of the decades-long sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests that Pope Francis has called "the shame of the Church.....Pope Francis told worshipers at Mass in the Vatican on Thursday that abuse scandals had cost us a lot of money, but paying damages is only right.....he said bishops, priests and lay people were responsible for this shame of the church".

I'm left wondering where all the "willingly obtuse" bishops, priests and lay Catholics were when the decades old story broke regarding the sexual abuse of thousands of children, the cover-up that continues, and just how much it's cost the "Church" in $$$$'s and cents (that's just the monetary cost, as there is a moral cost as well), bankrupting and closing many houses of worship. Left wondering where the Diocese stands on this, what part they may have played and just exactly what effect they think the abuse may have had not only on the children, whether living, or dead, but also those who cling to their religion so tightly, who worship and pray within the walls of The Church, who continue to remain "willfully obtuse"?!

We are ALL God's children, and through our faith a member of GOD'S CHURCH. It may do the Church (any church) well to not continue to ignore what Scripture says regarding the harming of children, or adults for that matter, and I have a feeling many Catholics that feel as I do are finding Pope Francis to be "a breath of fresh air"!

Nemesis

Regarding "running, not walking away"

Every denomination that has embraced the change Mr. Panetta's supporters are advocating is losing members at an alarming rate. The growth of religious denominations in America and around the world is pretty much directly corrolated to how closely they adhere to traditional moral teachings. The two fastest growing denominations (which are also the two largest non-Catholic Christian denominations in the USA) make the Catholic Church look positively progressive on this issue.

John Harville

PANTHER DYNASTY is crumbling.

Dcfred20036

I want to mention something. Since I have been out of Ohio since 1988 and as part of my involvement with this situation, I did some research on what has been going on in the Diocese of Toledo...my guess, the SR readers already know the story. But I can tell you, something is not right there. If I believed in the literal devil- well, I would have to come to the conclusion that he has taken residence in the diocese's HQ: good, decent people getting fired, like Mr. Panetta and evil ones- and yeah, I mean word evil- being moved around...and a killer priest to add to the mix. Oh Lord, have mercy!

DickTracey

The Toledo Blade has done a fantastic job not only telling the victims stories, but they actually played detective and caught the Toledo Diocese in lies!

What struck me the most, was when the 53 year old victim from Bellevue finally went to Toledo to tell his story, the CURRENT members of the Toledo Diocese LIED to him, and told him they could not help him, because the Priest that molested him was dead!

When the victim told the Blade, the Blade then went and found the priest alive and well, living less than 40 minutes from the Toledo Diocese!! SICK!

This would be the same Diocese that helped Melody make her decision?

What is that saying about, "the company you keep"?

Ned Mandingo

Judge, less not you be judged. isn't that what the pedophiles preach to you people.

Ned Mandingo

Its hard to take serious anyone who still supports the catholic church now that it is obvious its run by homosexual pedophiles.

DickTracey

Agreed Ned, and even the priests that didn't touch the boys, LIED and covered up for the ones that did.

Then there are the nuns that pulled little girls out of class to be fondled in the office for an hour and then sent back to class. Those same nuns protected the priests, and even punished little girls that cried.

The Catholics built a breeding ground for these pedophiles, when they asked a man to marry a brick and mortar church. The perfect place for a pedophile to live like a rock star!

Ned Mandingo

The priests are just angry that they didn't know him when he was a young boy.

Dcfred20036

John or Dick- does anyone have info on Melody's previous record, but articles that are on the news record, be it state, local, Ohio/Mi... I have been researching for my blog, but other than press releases, etc I don't find much...but please, no hearsay. Thanks.

John Harville

Monroe Catholic Elementary School website.
Monroe Evening News - I'm calling the Education Editor Monday.

Melody was principal at Monroe St. Mary School. Effective 2011-12 the three Catholic elementary schools combined into Monroe Catholic Elementary School and - like man such schools - consolidating all of certain grade levels in the three schools.
Melody Curtis was appointed Executive Director and was responsible for making the transition for the 2012-13 year. She was in that position less than a year when she applied to SCCS.
She has a BA '05 and MA '07 from Lourdes and is featured on their website.

Dcfred20036

Update: Story has found its way to Washington, DC: WUSA-9 (CBS)

John Harville

It's being forwarded to Bill Maher, also.
It's unfortunate for the students - and for the new band director and Perkins Schools.

Dcfred20036

Thanks John. If true, a tenure of less than one year is NOT a good thing in ANY profession. Now Lourdes is a good school, but maybe they need to teach a course in crisis management. I'm sure had Mr. Dennis Rectenwald been principal still, he would have handled this situation in a more compassionate way. The gay thing aside, one of the things that has given this story "legs" is the way in which it was handled, in the cruelest of ways: not allowing Mr. Panetta to say goodbye to the kids.

John Harville

DC. Here's the place for your research.

From State Rep Denise Dreihous:
"When the (state) budget process started, I met with parochial school principals as well as the legislative liaison for the Catholic Conference to better understand the importance of STATE FUNDING for Catholic Schools. I was able to add language to the House version of the budget to raise the cap on the ADMINISTRATIVE COST REIMBUREMENT line item so the funds in this line could be accessed by the Catholic Schools."

It is possible Melody Curtis' salary/costs are reimbursed through the state.

Sandusky City Schools have to receive and allocate state funds to SCCS. At on time the Music Teacher position(s) was funded with state monies. Even now state funds are allocated for computer, reading, OT, other programs.

John Harville

“The Church’s social teaching proposes principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives guidelines for action” (CCC 2423).

FOR THE sccs COMMUNITY.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is “the teaching (social doctrine) of the Church on the truth of revelation about human dignity, human solidarity, and the principles of justice and peace; the moral judgments about economic and social matters required by such truth and about the demands of justice and peace”

John Harville

“It is by the path of love, which is charity, that God draws near to man, and man to God. But where charity is not found, God cannot dwell. If, then, we possess charity, we possess God, for ‘God is Charity’ (1 Jn 4:8).” -St. Albert the Great

BTW Melody Curtis' tenure as Executive Director was less than a year in practice though as principal of St. Mary School she was involved as a key player in the transition.

Pages