Go away, gay

Matt Westerhold
Jan 20, 2014

The firing of Brian Panetta as the St. Mary Central Catholic High School band and choir director is one sad story, on so many levels.

The saddest part, perhaps, is the school had the courage to hire Panetta nearly five years ago likely knowing from the beginning he was gay. That was a courageous step for a Catholic school, and Panetta thrived as director, doubling the size of the band and giving it back its “Panther Pride.”

From a believer's perspective, one might think God had a lot to do with Panetta getting hired in the first place; he served those students for 4½ years and nobody has even suggested he did not serve them, and their families, well. He, and they, both appear to have prospered from the experience.

Men and women who don't have faith often envy those who do and wish they too could be believers. From a non-believer's perspective, however, the decision to fire Panetta might appear to be a man-made occurrence in defiance of the universe, in defiance of God.

Click here to read related articles and watch interview with Panetta

It wasn't an easy decision for the school and church doctrine appears to mandate that Panetta be cast aside and sent away from the parish he loved and the parish that loved him. Panetta could have stayed as long as he didn't make a “public” statement about who he really was, as long as he agreed to deny his own self-worth in front of the God who created him, and the world.

It's difficult for many to understand that hide the sin-use the sinner hypocrisy. It creates an image of Panetta being cast out in shame from the great institution St. Mary's is, and always has been, despite past difficulties with real sexual misconduct involving priests.

There also likely have been gay parishioners who gave a lifetime of devotion to the church and school, and past staff members at St. Mary's, who, as long as they denied their own sexual identities, were allowed to “sin” and prosper in the faith.

Making good people hide their true selves, for people of faith, must be like forcing them to deny God's perfection in creating them differently than he created others. And it's likely those past people of faith struggled with that every day of their faithful lives.

Understanding God is easier, perhaps, than understanding church doctrine, and the decision to fire Panetta does appear to have come more from outside Sandusky, and even outside the reach of the Toledo Diocese..

Again, these were difficult decisions made in the clash of 2,000-year-old tradition and belief system against the modern enlightenment that every person — regardless of orientation — has the right to love and marry the person they choose, and to love God.

But the battle over words that ensued after Panetta was fired, over the terminology to describe the separation and who made the decision, also seemed disingenuous. It was a speak the lie-hide the truth approach. Panetta was fired. Period. If they agreed to let him return, he likely would be at the school Monday morning.

Initially, school officials seemed to want to make it clear that Brian resigned, and was not fired. But firing someone one day and giving them the chance to resign a week later or remain fired is still a firing. It's sad that the “public face” they hoped to portray is not the “true face.”

There was a similar word game as to where the decision was made, with the Diocese initially suggesting it was a local decision, and local school officials suggesting it was forced by the diocese. In the end, the edict likely comes from Rome, and the men and women involved here appear to have tried their best to do what they felt compelled to do.

And one last time, these were difficult decisions in a changing world involving a religion that cherishes its traditions and beliefs and is slow to change or evolve. Local decision makers and the Diocese missed an opportunity to speak truth and foster a change that many — including Catholics — believe is needed.

Panetta seems to be a person more clear in his convictions who knows who he is, as a man, as a teacher, as a Catholic and as a musician and future spouse to Nathan than most of us do.

And he should know, his presence in Sandusky has changed us and sparked a conversation that might never have happened without him. It is truly a teachable moment, as he suggested, and the lessons for his students, especially, and for the community at large, will be reviewed and considered by many for a long time to come.

Watch the "between the Lines" interview with Panetta




Even a bigshot lawyer like you can't fool me about bankruptcy following scandals. Bankruptcy is complicated but it usually involves a lack of funds to meet obligations. Now who may be owed those obligations?


Well you're wrong. The process of Bankruptcy allows all creditors to have access to available funds to pay debts including legal judgments. It is more likely all the victims of cleric sexual abuse will be paid something if the Church files bankruptcy rather than a few victims receiving a lot of money.

Gosh it's always about the money. Nobody really cares what happens to the students/children/school do they as long as Mr. Panetta, the SR and the activists get their pound of flesh, publicity and or "victim" status.


Actions have consequences. Your right on one account NO ONE but Mr. Panetta cared about the students, least of all the President.


We disagree. Mr. Panetta cared only about himself and his needs.


Now you attack Panetta? Not enough to attack your fellow Catholics who disagree with you? Sorry dude YOU don't get to decide all by yourself the direction of the Church, most likely when people speak to you they tell you what they think you want to hear because you're a bully. But surprise, surprise I am a nobody so I get the truth, and it's not looking good for your side.

John Harville

sooo. the church doesn't have to pay taxes... but is entitled to utilize the system?

John Harville

BABO.. separation of church and state is ONLY when the church wants it?

John Harville

BABO. You have no valid points remaining so now you decide to libel and label me as anti-American?

Even if I vaguely qualified as a 'public figure', outright lies you know to be lies written with malice are actionable if the MODERATOR doesn't remove the post - and the poster.

John Harville

MODERATOR. Remove the offensive, libelous post, please.


"outright lies you know to be lies written with malice are actionable"

Oh good.....I hope Mrs. Curtis remembers this about YOUR comments!


Holding a president responsible for problems in their organization is not liable it's called a accountability. Which every president signs up for from POTUS to Curtis.

John Harville

Sanduskymom... I wish Mrs. Curtis would come forward and call out my lies... but I have statements and news releases to support my opinions. Also I have only spoken of her public actions in her role with SCCS and MCES
Unlike comments on here about me, I have doubted nor disparaged her faith, her personal life (even though she spoke of her husband and sons on her profile on the Lourdes University site), her personal beliefs.
Unlike comments on here about me, I have not doubted her sincerity as an administrator though I have questioned her judgment... which is a right of anyone when a 'public figure' acts in his/her public capacity.
I know of nothing I've written that is a lie - outright or otherwise - and I have not been malicious in asking if she, as administrator, considered the broad ramifications her actions would have on the school and the students.


Hoping that the Diocese uses this "can " to OUST CURTIS!


Mr. Westerhold and SR, you remind of a disgruntled friend of someone's ex. For heaven's sake, both Mr. Panetta and SCCS have moved on from this. How long are you going to milk this story? It's done and over with and no amount of public conversation is going to make the Church change its teachings.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks Pirate1334 for your thoughts and being part of the ongoing dialogue occurring. Obviously, there are readers and others who continue to be interested in this topic and who, like you, want to share their opinion. Your suggestion our intent is to "milk" this story isn't accurate. If you choose not to participate any further, there are other stories and commentary you can read here at sanduskyregister.com and perhaps you should consider simply skipping this coverage and commentary and find something else to read.  


@ Mr. Westerhold:

The point: Is there anything new to report or are you merely churning an old tired story?

BTW: I did watch most of your webcast with Mr. Panetta and found that it shed some new light on the topic. My compliments.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks Contango. Some viewers seemed disappointed in the interview so I'm happy you saw some value to it. This post is an editorial column in which I offered my thoughts on what occurred. That's been part of the role of an editor at any newspaper for more than 200 years. This has been a community conversation about a difficult topic. The role of a newspaper is to encourage dialogue, not to shut it down. Again, obviously there is a lot of interest in this story. Suggesting it is an "old, tired" story just isn't accurate.  


Re: "obviously there is a lot of interest in this story."

IMO, based on Mr. Panetta's demeanor of being a desirer of privacy, as I perceived it during the webcast; I gotta think that he would kinda wish that this story would go away and that he and his partner could just move on.

Matt Westerhold

I haven't been contacted by Mr. Panetta as to his thoughts and you are assuming you know what he might be thinking. But I did meet with him and don't share your opinion as to what his desire might be, nor am I assuming I know. On the flip side, this story and the continuing coverage has sparked a high level of reader interest and the desire by many to share their thoughts, as you have. 


Re: "I haven't been contacted by Mr. Panetta as to his thoughts,"

Perhaps out of consideration you should contact him and inquire as to his thoughts?

I can't imagine that this continuing publicity from your soapbox is conducive to his finding gainful employment.

I've essentially previously voiced my views on the situation.

IMO, your editorials have now become a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Matt Westerhold

Generally, newsmakers do not decide when news coverage or commentary ends. Also, having met Mr. Panetta, my guess is that your assumption is not correct. 


@ Mr. Westerhold:

Re: "newsmakers do not decide when news coverage or commentary ends."

And then for what purpose did God create editors? :)

Have a nice day.

And thank you for the forum and your responses.


Mr. Westerhold, in your video interview with Mr. Panetta, he repeatedly said he didn't consider himself to be an activist on the subject. He did, however, admit that he can see where the public may get that interpretation. Nonetheless, he was adamant that he doesn't see himself being an activist from this point forward, despite the fact that you continually referred to him as one throughout the interview, including during the closing. To me, that sounds an awful lot like you have an incorrect understanding of his desires.

Also, the "continuing coverage" that has "sparked a high level of reader interest" was completely fabricated by the Register. This editorial, though typical of a journalist, is not necessary outside of pushing the story and getting as many clicks as possible.

Matt Westerhold

Newspapers have been in the business of selling newspapers for quite some time, just as the Ford Motor Co. has been in the business of selling cars. Since it appears that between the two of us I'm the only one who has had a conversation with him, I might be in a better position to know where he's coming from than you might be. But again, newsmakers don't decide when to cut of coverage, or commentary on a topic. 


At least you're finally willing to admit this editorial has more to do with selling newspapers than reporting new information.

You might be, you might not be.

For the record, Mr. Westerhold, I have no personal vendetta against you or the Register. I'm simply supporting my stance on the issues at hand and challenging yours. I do appreciate your standing firm in your position and engaging directly in dialogue with your readers.

Matt Westerhold

I've been in the business of selling newspapers for two decades and have never been in denial about that. I appreciate your comments. 

Pterocarya frax...

If I were Mr. Panetta, and I really wanted the story to go away, I would not have done a televised interview....but that is just me.

I see him more as realizing he must be a sacrificial lamb...to further promote the dialog and understanding that it's okay to be gay. If that is accurate, then I applaud him for putting his neck out there.


When an injustice happens, the story gains a life of its own: now this is bigger than Mr. Panetta and St. Mary. People here in Washington, DC are discussing it....and the clip that was played on WUSA-9 (CBS) simply made the school look cruel, the part about him not being allowed to say goodbye to his students. The whole thing is just extremely sad. People keep asking me where is the outrage in Sandusky....there is I respond, just quiet, via social media. The Toledo Blade editorial touches on similar themes as this wonderful, thoughtful piece by the SR. As Oprah used to like to say, "when we know better, we do better". Well, let's hope that going forward St. Mary now knows better and does better in the future. I really do love the school and I want to save it from itself.


I thought the only issue with the webcast was the sound problem at the beginning. It was good to hear Brian's side, his own words, in an unedited way. I wished Alissa had participated more.

John Harville

Well said... along with your well-written editorial.
Some realize also their are 'Open and Affirming' churches in Sandusky whose members 'embrace all of God's children' - something the Catholic church only pretends.
Some of us who can claim true ecumenism understand the religion is 'human rules' for trying to understand 'faith' - in God or Allah or non-God - for which there are, by definition, no rules.
True ecumnism: delivered - and circumsized with full Briss - by a rabbi in a Catholic church to a Presbyterian mother who surrended the infant for adoption by a Methodist mother (with Mennonite background) and a Quaker father who divorced and remarried a southern Baptist (she) and a Catholic (he) which placed both parents forever in the sin of adultery.
I know... it's all meaningless. But I've been challenged here several times. I married Lutheran and became a baptized Catholic wherein I prepared 8th graders for confirmation and taught in Catholic schools and led Cathedral choirs all the while preparing for the lay ministry and diaconate.
Thereby came my firm resolve never to let religion interfere with or mask my faith.
Keep going Matt. This story has legs that reach all the way to the Vatican.