Diocese of Peoria to meet with university officials over fired professor

07 16 2010 UIllinois Peoria 3

The Diocese of Peoria has scheduled a meeting with officials from the University of Illinois to discuss the termination of adjunct professor Dr. Kenneth Howell. The diocese said it did not respond to the termination sooner because it wanted to first meet with university officials.

Howell was fired from the University of Illinois after an anonymous student complained that his statements about homosexuality amounted to “hate speech.” The statements were made within the context of an Introduction to Catholicism class this spring.

The professor had taught at the university for nine years.

In his defense, Howell said he was simply explaining Catholic teaching on homosexual behavior. According to the Church, he said, homosexual behavior violates natural law and is immoral.

A letter written by Howell explained that after he was fired from the university, he was also informed that he would no longer be employed by the Newman Center, since there was no longer any teaching for him to do.

Howell said that he had suggested continuing to teach classes on Catholicism at the Newman Center, but that Monsignor Gregory Ketcham, current director of the center, had turned down the offer.

In a press release yesterday, the Diocese of Peoria confirmed plans to meet with officials from the University of Illinois to discuss Howell’s termination.

Diocese chancellor Patricia Gibson explained 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.”

Gibson told CNA that the diocesan officials had refrained from making a statement earlier because they were waiting to give the university a chance to speak with them first.

Now that the university has contacted the diocese, a meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, she said.

Msgr. Ketcham, director of the Newman Center at the university, emphasized that Howell’s position there had been to teach Catholic courses at the university.

In a letter addressed to the residents of Newman Hall, Msgr. Ketcham reiterated the Newman Center’s commitment to the faith.

“St. John’s Catholic Newman Center (SJCNC) and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria firmly proclaim all the truths of the Catholic Faith,” he said.

“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, and the Diocese of Peoria will be speaking with the University early next week.”

“Dr. Ken Howell was primarily employed by SJCNC to teach Catholic courses on campus for University credit and we will seek to lobby for him to continue to do that,” Msgr. Ketcham said.

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