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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Published: Monday, 1/20/2014

EDITORIAL

Teaching moment

Brian Panetta, the popular former director and coordinator of Sandusky Central Catholic School’s music program, was forced out of his job after he publicly announced his engagement to his partner, Nathan David, 25.

The Catholic Diocese of Toledo points out, correctly, that Mr. Panetta, 27, signed a teacher’s contract “to act and speak in a way that supports the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings.” His dismissal from a private institution appears to be on solid legal ground.

Even so, the outpouring of support from students, faculty, and parents for a gay teacher who lost his job at a Catholic school in Sandusky raises the possibility that a growing number of church members may once again take issue with an official church stand, as they have with the ban on birth control. An online petition at hirebrianback.blogspot.com that has garnered more than 700 names is urging his rehire.

Online supporters have questioned how much official hypocrisy is involved when many other students, faculty, and parents associated with the school, without reprimand or censure, probably also violate church teaching by using birth control and remarrying after getting divorced, without a church annulment.

But Mr. Panetta did the unforgivable: He was honest and made his status public. He did the right thing and knowingly risked the consequences.

His relationship with Mr. David was apparently no secret, The couple attended school games together.

They met five years ago at the University of Dayton, a Catholic college, and got engaged on Christmas Day.

Change in an old, venerable institution occurs under many guises — incrementally, slowly, officially — or sometimes unofficially and quickly, pushed ahead by its members.

The position of the Catholic Church is certain to invite more challenges as an increasing number of states approve gay marriage.

Nationwide last year, 10 employees were fired from Catholic institutions under similar circumstances, reports Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which says it represents gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning Catholics.

Near Seattle last month, students chanting “change the church” walked out of Eastside Catholic High School to protest the firing of vice principal and swim coach Mark Zmuda, who married his same-sex partner. Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was handed a protest petition with 21,000 signatures, and Mr. Zmuda’s supporters are planning a day of action for Jan. 31.

Dissent in recent decades has become a kind of church tradition.

In his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI ignored advice from his own commission and reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception.

A vast majority of Catholics simply rejected the ban and moved on.

Most recently, Pope Francis refused to strike a condemnatory stand when asked about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?” he responded, emphasizing instead God’s love for all.

In Ohio, Mr. Panetta told the Sandusky Register that he does not intend to contest the school’s action.

“I care deeply for the school, its faculty, and especially the students,” Mr. Panetta said. “Secondly, I just want the truth to be understood and for there to be no confusion as to why I can no longer continue my work at SCCS. This is a teachable moment and I am a teacher above all else.”

Marriage allows gay people to take on the lifestyles, values, and virtues that heterosexual couples assume. It puts gays into what is actually a conservative relationship and challenges them to live with fidelity, control, and commitment as heterosexual couples are called to do.

That’s certainly not how the Catholic Church — or many Catholics — view gay marriage now. But as more dissenting Catholics such as Mr. Panetta take a stand, what other Catholics believe may change. Whether that influences church doctrine remains to be seen.



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