By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The Diocese of Peoria is planning to meet with officials from the University of Illinois to discuss the case of a professor of Catholicism who was recently fired after an anonymous student complained that his teaching of the Church’s position on homosexuality amounted to “hate speech.”
The Catholic News Agency (CNA) is reporting that the Diocese of Peoria intends to meet with university officials regarding the firing of adjunct professor Dr. Kenneth Howell who was terminated after explaining in his “Introduction to Catholicism” class that the Church believes homosexual behavior violates natural law and is immoral. Even though he has taught the course for nine years without incident at the University, this past semester a student reported him to the University’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Concerns, accusing him of engaging in hate speech.
The Office ultimately ruled in the student’s favor, and Dr. Howell was relieved of his duties at the University as well as from the campus’ Newman Center.
The move touched off a firestorm of protest across the nation, which resulted in much public pressure being brought to bear on the University. Last week, the Diocese of Peoria joined in the fight by announcing plans to meet with university officials to discuss Howell’s termination.
Diocese chancellor Patricia Gibson explained in a press release that the diocese is committed to pursuing a “just resolution” and has been seeking contact with the university since they were informed of Howell’s dismissal.
“The Diocese has had direct contact with the President of the University of Illinois, who has reiterated that academic freedom is at the core of their teaching and he is willing to have a review of this action so that all the details related to this situation can be investigated,” Gibson stated.
“The University has given us every assurance that they intend to continue to offer Catholic courses in the Department of Religion,” she said. “They have also indicated that they are open to a discussion concerning who will teach these courses in the future.”
CNA is also reporting that Msgr. Ketcham, director of the Newman Center at the university, sent a letter addressed to residents of Newman Hall in which he reiterated the Center’s commitment to the faith and the action that will be taken by the diocese to restore Dr. Howell to his former position.
“St. John’s Catholic Newman Center (SJCNC) and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria firmly proclaim all the truths of the Catholic Faith,” Msgr. Ketcham wrote. “The Catholic Diocese of Peoria felt that it would be irresponsible to react too quickly making a public statement without first giving the University of Illinois the chance to speak with us,” he explained. “It wasn’t until July 10 that we finally heard from the University . . .”
He then clarified that Dr. Howell was primarily employed by SJCNC to teach Catholic courses on campus for University credit, adding that “we will seek to lobby for him to continue to do that.”
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