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

Panther Student

It is nice to see an alum that stands up for its alma mater... Thank you for understanding.

John Harville

"I'm also seeing a lot of SMCC alumni rip the school, and I condone their words strongly."

Really?
You 'condone their words'?
Did that come from your SMCC education or something you picked up at OSU?
PANTHER DYNASTY is alive and flailing.

John Harville

Perhaps with a little more experience in a less-Catholic intensified atmosphere you'll realize how your comments sound.

This issue is far beyond the local players.

Our school and Diocese created a contract that requires its employees to sacrifice basic Constitutional rights of FREE SPEECH in order to teach at our school.

You have the advantage of living in a Catholic Church - and attending Catholic school - in an incredibly more relaxed environment. have you ever been taught by a nun in a habit? Have you ever attended Mass EVERY MORNING before the day started? ...ever known a Church when all the girls had to cover their heads to enter the church? ...ever been required to fast from Midnight Saturday until after Sunday Mass? ...ever been ordered not to read the Bible because to do so would be heresy? ...ever taken Eucharist when you could only touch the Host with your tongue? ...ever walked heeltoeheeltoe down the hallways?

And yes... the school DID make him resign because he is gay - just couldn't do so until he took an action the school could use as a weapon to be rid of him.

...have you ever celebrated the Mass in Latin because it was required?

John Harville

Smcc Student: Have you asked yourself if Melody Curtis thought even a moment what repercussions her actions would have on you and other students, on the SCCS image in the community, that people might "have made us out to be a 'homophobic institution'?
If given the chance before all this happened, would you have asked Mrs. Curtis "Please, please consider the students through this"?
If only...

Dcfred20036

Hey Panther Student, you are bright and I can tell you are going to do great things in your life. People know that St. Mary students are not homophobic. Quite the opposite and that is what makes this story so compelling in a weird kind of way, because we know he was loved by students and parents. But here is the thing: everything that you are witnessing now is the issue of our day. It's the civil rights of our day. And things are changing rapidly. I know Sandusky is small and high school can sometimes be like a bubble. But actions have consequences, and I'm not sure why the school leadership decided to handle Brian's termination in the way they did. But they had to know it would create a national firestorm, and I'm sorry it has made high school suck in the last week. What happened to Brian is becoming increasingly unacceptable throughout the country, even for Catholic schools. In Seattle students are protesting the firing of a loved principal. The nuns told him he could keep his job – if he divorced his husband. Ridiculous, don't you think? Think about it, really. And this is the kind of thing puts the spotlight on a school when a gay person is fired. I know the students in St. Mary are compassionate and have a good heart. But in a few years, people will look back and say that this was not the school's best moment.I don't know if you are band kid but if you are not, reach out to them, maybe even give them a hug, as they are mourning the loss of their director. I wish you well. I want you to learn, to challenge yourself, to stretch that imagination, dream of new things. I want your life to be thrilling. Good luck!

sanduskymom

Fred, you - more than ANY other person - have hurt the current students at SMCC. Your relentless pursuit to spread this story to media outlets is quite sickening. You have posted and promoted information that is just, plain WRONG. You yourself have stated that you have never met Brian, yet you have used him - and our school - to promote our own personal agenda. I am sorry that you have differences of opinion about the Catholic faith, but it is what it is. Brian knew that, did the right thing, and has moved on. Why can't you?

When's the last time you stepped foot in the halls of SMCC, or even met a current SMCC student? I'm guessing it's been a very, very long time. The students have been amazingly mature in this situation. THEY get it. The leadership, compassion, and understanding they have shown during this difficult time would blow you away. Unfortunately, it's adults - many of whom have absolutely no connection to the school - who have behaved horribly. How disheartening it must be for kids to see alumni speak so poorly about the place and the people they love.

I'm very glad that you renounced your alumni membership - because I certainly wouldn't want students to think all alumni are as "supportive" as you. But, should you ever change your mind, stop in at our alma mater and meet some of the people who continue to carry the torch for Catholic education, because you will see absolutely NO examples of bigotry or hypocrisy, and plenty of examples of compassionate, service oriented, and free-thinking kids.

This national firestorm was created by the Register to make money (more hits on their website means more dollars in their pockets) and fueled by YOU. You have sacrificed our school, and by proxy our students, for your own personal issues. Sad. The school will continue moving forward in very positive direction, and instead of this being "not our best moment" may become a teaching moment that strengthens the faithful because it reminds us what the SACRAMENT of marriage is all about.

cody6202000

And what of the possibly 10-15 LGBT kids who are in that school? Heck with 'em and throw 'em to the wolves? Is that supposed to be "positive"? Deny it as much as possible, but there ARE kids in that school who have either come out or are grappling with their sexuality, and calling this something that "strengthens the faithful" is only another example of how we LGBT get kicked to the curb when push comes to shove.

sanduskymom

Who said the school has kicked LGBT kids to the curb or denies they exist?? That has not happened - in fact, there HAVE been plenty of LGBT kids who have graduated in recent years, and they are accepted as who they are. Have you ever even stepped foot inside of a Catholic school?

The Catholic church is not against gay people. They strongly believe through their faith that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman and expect their employees to model that same belief. No one is judging other faiths for having different ideas about marriage. Geez....if you don't like Catholic beliefs - don't be a Catholic, teach in a Catholic school, accept charity from Catholic institutions, etc.! It's really that simple.

John Harville

So glad you posted this.
You clearly demonstrated the firing of the teacher was a homophobic act.
You state: "...in fact, there HAVE been plenty of LGBT kids who have graduated in recent years, and they are accepted as who they are..."

To be LGBT is to at some time participate in the lifestyle and support the lifestyle...

And I HAVE stepped foot in a Catholic school and had children in Catholic schools and taught the Catechism in Catholic school. Bigger question - have YOU? Even non-Catholic parents are expected to embrace the principles and beliefs of the Catholic Church and instill the same attitudes in their children. Read your Catechism, beginning with 2537.

As for "...marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman and expect their employees to model that same belief." BULL! How can a non-Catholic second-marriage (adulterous) teacher 'model' sacramental marriage? SCCC has non-Catholic employees - yes, even teachers! - (and even a couple Catholic ones) who liver in relationships the Church considers adulterous.

sanduskymom

John, I'm sensing you have a problem with the Catholic church. Let me suggest you try a different faith. It's OK if the Catholic religion isn't a good fit for you.

Dcfred20036

I love the school, and I want it to do better. I live by the values that were instilled in me by my Catholic education at Sandusky St. Mary. As a member of the very active Facebook band alumni group, all I wanted was for the school to reconsider Brian's termination for the sake of the band kids and the continuity of the music program. Read the comments on the online petition: Students, parents,alumni members - even people opposed to the gay agenda- loved Brian and were amazed at what he had done with the band. Alumni members were always so excited when a new video of a band performance was posted. He was a good ambassador for the school. As to the Sandusky Register, my guess is that they covered this because every time a gay teacher gets fired from a Catholic school it becomes instant news. Gay rights is the civil rights of today. Its the issue of today. And anything having to do with the firing of a much-loved gay teacher makes instant, national news. It has in Seattle and in some other cities. Drinking from a separate water fountain sounds ridiculous today, don't you think? Increasingly, people all across the country are feeling the same about about gay civil rights. I understand that the school has already hired a new band director. I wish him/her well. Let this be a teachable moment for everyone. Actions always have consequences. I simply chose to follow my conscience and be on the right side of history. Sanduskymom, I wish you well and God bless you.

sanduskymom

How can you say you love the school when you have spent so much time this week trying to take it down? You, and the other poster "Sugar" have said horrible things that have affected the kids. (What makes Sugar's postings even worse is the fact that she has grandkids at the school!) I too am an alumni and member of the Band Alumni Facebook group. You (and others) posted simply awful things. You forced a discussion about something that is bigger than SMCC, but sacrificed us and Brian in the process. Sadly, you have no first hand knowledge of what was actually happening, nor do you even know Brian, yet you were able to cause a firestorm for a place you love?

You say you were trying to make things better for the kids - yet you don't know any of them or how they are dealing with this? They have been amazing. They get it! They are our next generation and may or may not take on the cause in their lifetimes. I can say they do love Brian, and are sad to see him go. But.....they understand why! Brian signed a contract every year committing to model a Catholic lifestyle he knew he wasn't living. End of story! They're excited to get to know their new director, and from all early reports, they really, really like him.

SMCC / SCCS is much, much different than when you and I were there. Kids today are different too. The culture there is very much like one of a family. I often see older kids helping younger kids - older kids coaching or attending their sporting events, older kids serving as leaders to emerging band students, older kids actually talking to and encouraging younger kids. It's fantastic - they take care of each other! A great example would be our high school robotics team. A 7th grader had a great interest in robotics, so the high schoolers welcomed him into their group. Imagine the impact those older kids had on that one kid - and how they helped set him up for success. Examples like this happen everyday.

I've said it before, Fred, I invite you to come back to visit SMCC - perhaps at homecoming? Bring your instrument and play with the band. Get to know Brian and bring him back with you too! I think you'd be impressed. I can guarantee you - you would be welcomed with open arms and be glad that you came back.

OSUAV8TER

Agreed, Fred you have done way more to harm SMCC than help.

It's this simple. Brian broke a rule of his contract. Regardless if he was a good teacher, he broke a rule. Should we make
an exception for him? Well then what would be the point of rules.

It's not SMCC's decision. They are a Catholic school and they follow what the Church says. Until the Church changes, back off the school. Didn't you go there?

sugar

Did you read this before you posted? You're all over the place, first we are awful for expressing our feelings and views, then you invite DC to play with the band? You're hysterical.

sugar

I thank Fred in the face of such hate and hypocrisy to have the courage to speak out.

Panther Student

Please do the community a favor and stop commenting. There is a MAJOR difference between having an opinion and being disrespectful. Maybe if you approached the subject in a more mature way people wouldn't be so quick to argue with you. Calling us arrogant a**** and bigots is sickening. You bicker with others for supporting the school's decision and then you call us names. We NEVER judged Mr. Panetta, but yet you are here judging a whole school. You don't know anything about my school, so who gave you the right to judge? Isn't that what you're trying to convince people not to do - judging others? YOU are the hypocrite here. Clearly you've never taken the time to see what the students and staff are like at SCCS.

John Harville

Perhaps you should use the education - and educators - of which you are so proud to learn more about the history of your religion.

LOOK at the contract. In order to teach in the system, teachers must sacrifice their Constitutional right of FREE SPEECH. They cannot publicly have opinions on any subject the Church considers sacred.

A priest recently told me that children conceived in-vitro "have no souls". The Church is opposed to in-vitro because it doesn't involve intercourse - even though both parents contribute the sperm and ovum. Do you truly BELIEVE that such a child has no soul and no place in Kingdom of God? Are you proud to be part of a religion that holds such beliefs?
The Church likewise proscribes surrogacy - and yet claims that procreation is the primary purpose of human love.
"We NEVER judged Mr. Panetta..." you now are delegated to be spokesperson for ALL STUDENTS at SCCS.
Clearly you have no idea to whom you are speaking and how much time I've taken to know what the students and staff are like...

Panther Student

My comment was directed towards sugar. The reason that IVF is not supported by the Catholic Church is because it takes away from the conjugal aspect of sex, you are right - BUT there is no teaching that says these children have no souls. IVF is actual seen as violating the child's right to human dignity (to be born within the procreative and conjugal act). You are letting one priest define a whole religion. What you are forgetting is that not all of the embryos are implanted into the woman's body, and the remaining embryos are usually destroyed or used for some scientific research. The Church recognizes this as the killing of innocent human lives. The Church does not support the use of embryos for scientific research, because this is also the destruction of human life. However, there are a few exceptions that would allow a married couple to use IVF to conceive a child, such as sterility. Maybe you want to step down from your claim that I don't "use" my education. I took a class on issues like this and am VERY well informed. I am proud to be a Catholic, and I always will be. I'm living my faith everyday to the best of my ability. I find it funny that a person from the outside thinks they know more about a school than a student who has actually attended the school since kindergarten. Talk to the rest of my fellow peers... They would say the same about Mr. Panetta. I also find it amusing that you seem to be making us out as a bunch of homophobes. We loved Mr. Panetta and what he did for the school - and guess what? Him being gay didn't change our opinion.

sugar

And sugar responds, please go to between the lines post to read my comment to Karma it's for you too. What no school today? Up awful late for a student. A thank you to John Harville and Cody for the informative posts. Student attacking my position on the issue does not negate or change one fact here.

Panther Student

I'm going to assume you never stayed up late when you were in school. When you can respectfully present your opinion without attacking my personal life please let me know. I am not "attacking" your opinion, rather I am saying that you are going about it the wrong way. Your language and attitude should not be condoned by anyone.

sugar

Here's a tip, you don't have to like anothers opinion, you just have to accept it for what it is. I will present myself as I see fit. Case closed.

Panther Student

That's fine. I don't expect you to understand when you're not a student or staff member.

Smcc Student

@Sugar

You're so hypocritical. You were crying on another page that users were "engaging you" and that you were "done responding". Now you're saying that you will, "present myself as I see fit".

Here is a comparison for you! The Catholic Church is presenting their beliefs based on what they see fit. Little something called Church doctrine. And guess what sugar?! They disagree with marriage of homosexuals. So stop playing the victimized liberal role and look at things from the other side.

Here comes the Ironic, counter-argument, word for word from your above post.

"Here's a tip, you don't have to like anthers opinion, you just have to accept it for what it is". The Church is presenting themselves as they see fit.

So please sugar, listen to your own advice and stop beating a dead horse.

"CASE CLOSED"

John Harville

Sandusky Mom... MELODY CURTIS more than anyone else has damaged SCCS students K-12.

Continuing her self-aggrandizing zeal from her former post, she gave no regard to the effect her actions would/could have on SCCS, its students, donors, supporters.

All of you should be EXTREMELY grateful Mr. Panetta has no plans to take action against SCCS. Merely filing such a lawsuit would be destructive.

The Church/Diocese still has not recovered from the negative publicity of five men who sued for the actions of pedophile priests. Have you not noticed declining mass attendance and fewer masses? Closed churches? Diocesan campaigns to bring back runaway Catholics are in Phase III.

Look what already has happened to our schools - consolidations, closed buildings, a President, diminishing enrollment.

What do you think would be the impact of a federal lawsuit (it WOULD be federal because it would name the Diocese) on Catholic schools in Sandusky and the surrounding area?

You and others best get down on your knees a long time this weekend and say a few Ave Marias (sorry, that's my old-school Catholicism).

bigbirdblue

All of you can critize me for writting down lyrics to a song all you want. Its the principal of the song. He talks about same love for all, thats the way it should be. Like i said before what is this teaching our children? We are teaching them to hate and to hide from their own feelings. Biggest thing i wanna know how would you handle one of your children gay? Would you cast judgment on them like you are doin to this man? Just a thought!

thinkagain

It wouldn’t be the first time a child would be out of sync with transcendent moral law.

Once a youth exercises their God given free will to engage in homosexual behavior, they are no different than any other individual given to destructive behavior.

Homosexuality, like drug addiction or alcoholism, is a destructive behavior that we should never encourage people or our children to continue.

The most important thing a Christian can do is try and enlighten one to the salvation under grace that is freely offered.

Christians who proclaim the truth that homosexuality is a sin are homosexuals' best friends, whether those in the homosexual community feel that way or not.

Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from everlasting death and cover over a multitude of sins.(James 5:20)

cody6202000

What about we atheists who couldn't give a monkey's backside about your little book of fables and the so-called "truth" that you want to put into LAW, even though you know full-well that you don't get the privilege to *force* me into believing ANYTHING?

The fact that LGBT and non-religious persons are starting to make a stand against the oppressive forces of modern-day Christianity that have taken over and made reasonable discourse a non-starter (Really? Calling US destructive when there are plenty of examples of HIV transmission among the hetero community? How about we start taking away rights and privileges just because of that, too? You're not innocent, either, since hetero sexual behavior can be JUST as destructive, if you're doing it wrong!) and the notion that we should have to go back into the closet and prostrate ourselves just to assuage the conscience of the hard-core Christian...

No. Not happening. We've made strides at the judicial and legislative levels, and people can wring their hands all they want, you've lost.

"The arc of equality bends toward justice."

John Harville

And yet hatred, hypocrisy and pride are much greater sins and much more destructive behavior.

cody6202000

One other thing: this article, as sugar mentioned earlier, has been picked up by the AP, Houston Chronicle, The Advocate, and numerous other LGBT blogs and websites. Those who are saying that this story is being "over-reported"...seeing as this has gone national, it's going to get a *ton* more airplay from the other outlets, over and above what is being reported here.

thinkagain

Excellent! The whole country needs to know that homosexuality is a sin. You can’t spit in the face of God without consequence.

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