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,, is advocating for Panetta's rehire. It also links to a 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 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.





One of those great high schools teach you how to count too??? wow

John Harville


How ironic if the Diocese once again (as it did following the 2004 lawsuit) has to completely revamp its legal standing and its contracts.

It could happen.


It's a big story because Huron and Erie counties have never had to face a gay-rights crapstorm like this before. We've been under the thumb of regressive politics for such a long time that we've never had to actually experience what it's like to see the LGBT community showing solidarity against the entrenched anti-gay forces.


This dude who's running the blog is an alum of SMCC? Who knew.

Plus, I thought he resigned his alumni status the other day, or did I misread that? Given that, I suggest he self-identifies as an alum of some other school. Pick one. Any one. Please.


The writer of this article is also a smcc alumni. Which is fine, what I find crazy is that so many people are turning on their strong catholic religion beliefs for a nice guy who has been living a lie the day he signed his contract. Bottom line is that his homosexual lifestyle is more important then his catholic religions beliefs, St. Mary's, and the students who liked him so much. Hopefully his replacement will be one who better suites the catholic religions beliefs. And puts his faith and their faiths beliefs ahead of their own beliefs.

Alissa Widman Neese's picture
Alissa Widman Neese

Yes, whattheBucks, I did graduate from SMCC. 

But although I'm an alumna of the school, I am also the Register's education reporter, and I do not consider doing my job "turning on my religion." 

If this happened at any other school, I'd cover it all the same. Feel free to contact me directly at if you have any questions about my coverage.


Alissa, please go back and read my post and let me know where I accused YOU of turning on your religion ? Did you sign the petition ? Are you in agreement that openly gay people should be teaching students at St Marys ?

Alissa Widman Neese's picture
Alissa Widman Neese

I guess I misinterpreted your post then. I apologize. I felt it necessary to respond because you're not the first person who's addressed whether I graduated from the school, so I wanted to go on the record and say it's true. Nothing more.

No, as the reporter covering this story, I obviously did not sign the petition.


Alissa , i enjoy your stories, youre young and you really do have a great future ahead of you. Much respect to you (and your parents)

Alissa Widman Neese's picture
Alissa Widman Neese

Thank you, I appreciate it!

God Of Thunder

Whatthebucks.....How can you say he was living a lie from the day he signed the contract? The school knew all along he was gay and had a partner. Apparently that was ok until they announced wedding plans. Then, oh no....Time to pull the double standard card that the catholic church always pulls.


Thunder, I can say that because HE knew his lifestyle and HE knew what his contract said. And from that day forward he was lying, please understand that if the school knew he was gay when hired ( which I believe they did ) then they are just as guilty. I agree that the catholic church pulls the double standard card all the time, and that it should have never been OK from the start.

John Harville

'lifestyle'? Has anyone said he/they were engaged in a lifestyle? Even the Catechism does not condemn homosexuality - however, as for ALL Catholics regardless of sexuality, engaging in the 'sexual aspect' of the lifestyle is the mortal sin of FORNICATION.

Is that what many of you - and the SCCC - are saying. Are you accusing him of fornication? On what basis?

However, looking at the employee list, I know three of the teachers and one member of administration openly are living in adultery (as defined by the Church) and the Administration has to know it. Yet still they teach.


You've been very quick with all these veiled references to other teachers and administrators who are supposedly in violation of the contract, but I have yet to see any names. Truth is an absolute defense to libel claims, so if your facts are so solid, of what are you so afraid?


Are you kidding???? Shut up.

John Harville

One can resign from active alumni/alumnae status.
Once you attend you are an alumnus/alumna.

...even if you didn't graduate or otherwise take a diploma.


It's really encouraging to hear of so many people sticking up for a man who simply wants respect and recognition for his loving relationship. So odd that the Catholic church chooses bigotry over dignity, and hurting over loving, when doing so is so un-Christian. It's as if that church is gripped by satanic forces,or as if it's just self-destructive. Jesus never intended for Christianity to be expressed in elaborate dogmas or in mind control. He simply favored love over all else.


You're all-loving Jesus does not exist. He is a figment of your imagination. Go back and read of the TRUE Jesus as presented in the Gospels- and look at what He said in it's TOTALITY- not by cherry picking a verse here and there, or by taking verses out of their context to fit your imagined perceptions of how Jesus "should be".


Speaking of "cherry-picking"...nailing the gays to the wall for a couple "gotcha" verses, but not using the same Levitical Holiness Code in its entirety?



The "Holiness Code" which is more accurately called the Ritual Cleanliness code, does not apply to anyone but the Jews.

John Harville

So the Catholic Church wrote its OWN code?
I'm asking, because Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.

But Jesus DID say "I command you to love one another as I have loved you." Not ask, not suggest - COMMAND.

And he forgave the woman who had known many men.




The Roman Catholic church is one screwed up organization. However, I support them on this one.

John Harville

All these Catholics on here spouting their interpretations of the Bible are exactly the reason people who wanted to read the Bible for themselves were burned at the stake. Bring on the 21st Century Inquisition... after all the 16th Century one was one of the 'brighter' centuries in Roman Catholic history.

John Harville

You support the Church in requiring employees to sign a contract that requires each one to sacrifice the Constitutional right of FREEDOM OF SPEECH? The contract says 'publicly' indicating any position opposite that of the school/Church on in-vitro, birth control, surrogacy - and many more MAY result in serious action.
So you are on record as supporting denial of basic Constitutional rights in order to teach at SCCC?
What about the Catholic administrator in one of the Sandusky Catholic churches whose Catholic-baptized child was conceived in-vitro?


Gotta love it when people spout off about the Constitution without understanding the first thing about what it is. The First Amendment, like the rest of the Constitution, is a set of limitations on what GOVERNMENT may do, not on private entities.

EVERY employee waives the exercise of certain constitutional rights in exchange for such consideration as a paycheck.
The Constitution guarantees the right to go where one pleases, when one pleases, but an employee may be required to be in a certain place at a certain time as a condition of employment. Free speech? Try setting up a blog about how terrible your employer is and see how long you keep your job.

We all waive various rights under limited circumstances in exchange for various perceived benefits. You remind me of the people who buy a condo and then scream about their rights when the condo association won't let them put something on the front lawn. They signed away some of their property rights when they bought in exchange for having someone else handle the yardwork, etc.

John Harville

'Property rights' do not compare with Constitutional rights.
And again, you are wrong.
The Constitution defines what the Federal Government may do.
The Bill of Rights was a limitation on what Federal government may do but, by implication places responsibilities on all other governmental agencies to protect the individual.
However, the Constitution provides a means through the remaining amendments for the federal government to restrict actions of the states and to give rights to ALL persons.
I guess you are saying if your 'condo association' says its residents agree to support the Association when it passes regulations against allowing rental/purchase by non-Caucasian, LGBTQ, unmarried roommates - then said signors may not take a 'public' stand against such restrictions?


He gotcha there Nemesis. lol


Right to property and right to enter into contracts are constitutional rights. You have the hallmarks of a sociopath; no objective moral code and no respect for the rights of other people.