Brian Panetta, left, with his fiance, Nathan David, says he was forced to resign from his job as a music teacher at St. Mary Central Catholic High School in Sandusky because his engagement would be interpreted as an endorsement of gay marriage.
SANDUSKY — Brian Panetta never wanted to be associated with a cause.
The recently departed director and coordinator of Sandusky Central Catholic School’s music program said he simply wanted to start the next chapter of his life with the man he loves, an Internet marketing consultant named Nathan David, 25. The two met while attending the University of Dayton five years ago, and plan to marry in July, 2015.
Now that it appears the school has hired a replacement for him, Mr. Panetta, 27, said he’s content with starting that next chapter of his life in another city, preferably Cleveland, Chicago, or Charlotte, N.C., where the two have ties.
School officials did not return calls seeking comment on Mr. Panetta’s forced departure. Principal Melody Curtis has her home phone set up to block incoming calls. Mr. Panetta said he heard Tuesday they had chosen a replacement.
“I’m not upset at any individual,” Mr. Panetta said. “It’s still upsetting, though.”
The popular Mr. Panetta’s resignation was negotiated after he said he was presented with a letter of termination Jan. 3.
According to Mr. Panetta, who has directed the school’s music program for five years, he arranged to meet Ms. Curtis that afternoon to disclose his wedding plans. He said she assured him he would be allowed to resign if it came to that. That evening, with no warning, the school dropped a termination letter on him, he said.
Last week’s deep freeze kept him from meeting with school officials until Thursday. At that point, they agreed to let him resign instead of being fired.
The forced departure has raised questions beyond Sandusky’s borders about the Catholic Church and its position on gay marriages.
“I understand the church’s teachings [on gay marriage], but I don’t agree with it,” Mr. Panetta said.
He said he was flattered by the support he received from students, faculty, and parents, including the creation of a blog, hirebrianback.blogspot.com, which called for his reinstatement.
The blog has an online petition. As of Tuesday night, there were 549 signatures.
Sally Oberski, communications director for the Diocese of Toledo, posted the following comment on the page where the signatures have been gathered:
"What your petition fails to mention is that Brian Panetta signed a contract when he was hired as a teacher-minister agreeing ‘to act and speak in a way that supports the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings. I understand that serious actions contrary to the Church’s teachings ... will not be tolerated.’ By signing this contract ‘I acknowledge that I have read and understand this contract in its entirety. I understand that any violation of any section of this contract may result in termination of this contract and employment immediately.’”
The diocese also said in a prepared statement “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 statement said the diocese “fully concurred” with Sandusky Central Catholic School officials that “it was the correct decision and in keeping with the terms of his teacher-minister contract.”
Mr. Panetta said in his resignation letter he is encouraged by the leadership of Pope Francis and “will continue to spread my faith and passion through music as I seek new venues for my ministry.” He said he is finishing up a master’s degree program in music education at Bowling Green State University, and is hoping to graduate in May.
Despite what happened in Sandusky, he said he sees signs of gay marriage becoming more accepted in society.
He said he has received words of support even from people he believes are uncomfortable with the concept of gay marriage.
“I’m encouraged so many people have reached out to me,” he said. “I think we’re heading that way.”
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.