Feast of St. Vincent de Paul*
All of a sudden in this bluest of blue liberal Democratic states, the poster boy for…(a) academic freedom (b) diversity of intellectual thought (c) freedom of religious expression (d) freedom from secular multi-versity oppression and (e) the need for a more militant ecclesial defense of Catholic thought … is a mild-mannered authenticist lay professor named Ken Howell.
He hasn’t become a celebrity yet because the professional liberal goo-goo’s in the media…Carol Marin, aka Apassionata van Leftward (who has three news outlets and is concerned only with speech repression of liberals, not conservatives)…WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” with Cardboard Man (Phil Ponce) and Nurse Ratched (Elizabeth Brackett)…the Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg, Richard Roeper, Mark Brown and Mary Mitchell (second thought: Mitchell wouldn’t be writing about Howell anyhow since he isn’t black)…and Tribune’s Clarence Page (same reason to ignore the story as does Mitchell: Howell is a white guy and…ugh…conservative)…have not the slightest interest in sparing a conservative from throttled speech and exercise of religion. Billy Ayres, the unrepentant terrorist, is a “distinguished fellow” at the U of I-Chicago teaching “social justice” without contradiction from any other source than the Left. But he thrills Marin, Ponce, Brackett, Mitchell, Steinberg, Roeper and Page et al. Rather than defend Howell, they choose to ignore his case.
Sunday the Tribune’s so-called “religion” columnist, Manya A. Brachear the so-called “seeker” wrote a piece Sunday which left no doubt as to her belief that in the issue of religious teaching on a state campus, the state trumps all on “academic freedom.” Meaning you teach what the state wants even if you class is devoted to Catholic studies. Quoting secularist professor Nicholas Burbules, a member of the Faculty Senate’s General University Policy Committee she reported his words without contradiction from another source: “I have very strong inclinations that this is where things went wrong in the first place” [the view that the “separation of church and state threatens academic integrity]. No mention whatsoever of the right of a professor to state the Catholic position without interference from the state. That’s good old Manya the “Seeker.”
While ignored by most of the liberals, still Howell has become a conservative cause celebre as he fights for true academic freedom at the University of Illinois where until June 30 he was teaching a course dedicated to exposition of Catholic thought.
I know him well; have had him speak at Chicago Legatus and Catholic Citizens of Illinois; like him immensely and can testify he is the world’s most unlikely guy to trigger a statewide furor and which possibly may detonate a national one for religious freedom. In his presentations, he is as precise but as clearly unequivocal as the late theologian Fr. John Hardon SJ.
Here are the circumstances of Ken Howell’s being fired for expressing clearly and without reservation the traditional Catholic view on homosexuality at a public university that illustrates its scorn for of academic freedom and freedom of religious exercise—as well as the Peoria diocese’s abject cowardice, fleeing controversy by neglecting defense of the Faith one would expect it to protect.
Convert from Presbyterian Ministry.
In his mid-50s, Ken Howell has been a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and has been director of the John Henry Newman Institute of Catholic Thought as well as adjunct associate professor of religious studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. He has a doctorate in linguistics from Indiana University and a second doctorate in the history of Christianity and Science from the University of Lancaster, England. He was a Presbyterian minister for 18 years and a professor of theology for seven at a Protestant seminary.
He was confirmed and received into the Catholic church in 1996. He and his wife have three children and live in Champaign, Illinois where the U of I is headquartered. He’s the author of several well-received books: Copernican Cosmology and Biblical Interpretation in Early Modern Science [Notre Dame Press:2002]; Mary of Nazareth, a scriptural study of Marian doctrine, published by Catholic Answers and The Eucharist for Beginners: Sacrament, Sacrifice and Communion also published by Catholic Answers.
There is some question as to how Howell is paid because the operation is an amalgam between the U of I and the Church. The general consensus is that he is paid by U of I funds in accordance with the Newman Institute of Catholic Thought. But if he’s paid by the Church, all the more justification for the archdiocese to be put on the pan for his firing.
The Newman Institute is expected to fairly teach Catholic thought in a rigorous academic setting with funds approved by both University and the Church. The Center is in control of the curriculum but the funding comes from the state university system. The mission of the Newman Institute is to provide authentic Catholic teaching supposedly untrammeled or uninfluenced by secular dogma. Representing the Peoria diocese in which the U of I main branch is located is Msgr. Gregory Ketchum.
Diocese and Newman Center Mum.
Howell’s firing came from a protest against his teaching authentic Catholic doctrine; yet it has received no public protest from the Newman Center or the Peoria diocese. But blogger and public heat was churned on which made the diocese stir uneasily.
What triggered Howell’s firing as teacher of a course entitled “Catholicism and Modern Culture” was an email he sent to his students explaining Catholic theology on the nature of homosexuality which led one student to protest that Howell was purveying “hate speech.” I’ll reproduce much of the Howell email later on in this article but rest assured nothing…absolutely nothing…he has written as deviated from Catholic doctrine in the slightest: and in fact has echoed Catholic teaching down through the ages with immaculate clarity and matchless erudition. I’m not surprised that criticism should come from a student who in his protest represents gay activism despite his denial as such —but I am dismayed that from Msgr. Ketchum and the Peoria diocese initially there was not been a peep of protest, their silence serving as seeming acquiescence to Ken Howell’s firing.
If the diocese of Peoria had raised a public question about Howell’s firing it is a certainty that the matter would have been put on hold and Howell continued to be retained during an investigation. But the fact that the firing was allowed to proceed without initial public questioning from the Peoria diocese has produced the furor among many Catholics today.
Perhaps Peoria’s silence and timidity and possible quavering before the secular state can be readily understood by the fact that the bishop since 2002 has been Daniel R. Jenky, CSC who had been superior of his religious community at the University of Notre Dame, the so-called mother university of Catholicism which has not been notable for its militant defense of Catholicism on campus.
Bishop Jenky is 63, Chicago born, Notre Dame-educated, a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross since 1975, appointed auxiliary bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend (1997) and 8th bishop of Peoria by Pope John Paul II. Evidently the experience as auxiliary to South Bend’s Bishop John M. D’Arcy, noted for strenuously opposing the invitation of Barack Obama to speak at Notre Dame didn’t take (but then Jenky was in Peoria when Bishop D’Arcy took his stand).
Only after Howell’s firing produced a cyclonic protest—heavy attacks from hundreds of bloggers, a law suit against the U of I by the Alliance Defense Fund and a surprisingly hot editorial in his defense from the ultra-liberal Chicago Sun-Times—did the diocese of Peoria bestir itself. My own blog tomroeser.comand my internet newspaper The Chicago Daily Observer at cdobs.com have protested among many others including some secular media.
Thus dragged into the spotlight by public outcry, a meeting was scheduled last week between the diocese and the U of I. Still, by Jenky, a model of accommodation in the style of Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC, Notre Dame president who sat still for Barack Obama’s honorary degree from his university, has been unavailable for public comment.
What Howell Said that Infuriated.
Here are some portions of Howell’s email to his students that offended one member. His name has been redacted but he has written in behalf of a student friend whose name is also hidden. The friend said both are Catholic but the student was shocked at the anti-homosexual vitriol. Read it and judge for yourself. From my standpoint of having taught at institutions for many years, including Harvard, it is absolutely free of vitriol but brimming with Catholic philosophic insight.
Howell: “Since there is a question on the final exam about utilitarianism, I thought I would help with an example…It turns out that our discussion of homosexuality brings up the issue of utilitarianism…[B]y what criterion should we judge whether sexual acts are right or wrong?...Utilitarianism in the popular sense is fundamentally a moral theory that judges right or wrong by its practical outcomes. It is somewhat akin to a cost/benefit analysis.
“So when a woman is deciding whether it’s right to have an abortion, the utilitarian says it’s right or wrong based on what the best outcome is. Similarly a man who is trying to decide whether he should cheat on his wife, if he’s a utilitarian ,will weigh the various consequences. If the cheating side of the ledger is better, he will conclude it’s okay to cheat. If the faithful side is better, he will refrain from cheating.”
“I think it’s fair to say that many, maybe most Americans, employ some type of utilitarianism in their moral decision-making. But there are at least two problems. One is that to judge the best outcome can be very subjective. What may be judged good for the pregnant woman may not be good for the baby. What may be judged good for the about-to-cheat husband may not be good for his wife or his children…
“Utilitarianism counsels that moral decisions should NOT be based on the inherent meaning of acts. Acts are only good or bad relative to outcomes. The Natural Law theory that I expounded in class assumes that human acts have an inherent meaning.”
Now we get to the first portion that got Howell in trouble (in bold italics).
“…If two men consent to engage in sexual acts, according to utilitarianism, such an act would be morally okay. But notice too that if a 10-year-old agrees to a sexual act with a 40-year-old such an act would also be moral [under utilitarianism] even if it is illegal under the current law...But another problem would be where to draw the line between moral and immoral acts using only informed consent. For example, if a dog consents to engage in a sexual act with its master, such an act would also be moral according to the consent criterion [of utilitarianism]. If this impresses you as far-fetched, the point is not whether it might occur but by what criterion we could say that it is wrong. I don’t think that it would be wrong according to the present [utilitarian] criterion…”
Continuing (with concepts adjudged offensive to gays in bold type): “…Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So a moral sexual act has to be between persons who are fitted for that act. Consent is important but there is more than consent needed. One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men one of them tends to act as the `woman’ while the other acts as the `man.’ …I don’t want to be too graphic so I won’t go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure and (sometimes) health of the human body…”
“…Now recall that I mentioned in class the importance of gaining wisdom from the past. One part of wisdom we gain from such knowledge is how people today came to think of their bodies. I won’t go into details here but a survey of the last few centuries reveals that we have gradually been separating our sexual desires (reality) from our moral decisions. Thus, people tend to think that we can use our bodies sexually in whatever ways we choose without regard to their actual structure and meaning. This is also what lies behind the idea of sex change operations…
“…If what I just said is true, then this disassociation of morality and sexual reality did not begin with homosexuality. It began a long time ago. But it took a huge leap forward in the widespread use of artificial contraceptives. What this use allowed was for people to disassociate procreation and children from sexual activity. So for people who have grown up only in a time when there is no inherent connection between procreation and sex—notice not natural but manipulated by humans—it follows `logically’ that sex can mean anything we want it to mean.”
Now he summarizes:
“Natural moral theory says that if we are to have healthy sex lives we must return to a connection between procreation and sex. Why? Because that is what is REAL. It is based on human sexual anatomy and physiology. Human sexuality is inherently unitive and procreative. If we encourage sexual relations that violate this basic meaning, we will end up denying something essential about our humanity, about our feminine and masculine nature…All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult. That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter.”
One Student’s Complaint: Enough for Fire Howell.
After receiving the email a complaint was sent to the University administration from a student who wished to remain anonymous. Again I have put his most serious objection in bold-face italics. Here is what it said in part:
“This past semester, a friend of mine took RLST 127: Introduction to Catholicism. Throughout the semester he would consistently tell me how the teacher [Ken Howell] who I believe is a priest at the Newman Center [sic] would preach (not teach) his ideology to the class. Many times my friend (whom I wish to remain anonymous) said the instructor would say things that were inflammatory and downright insensitive to those who were not of the Catholic faith. It should be noted that my friend and I were both brought up Catholic.
“Anyways [sic], my friend informed me that things got especially provocative when discussing homosexuality. He sent me the following email which I believe you will agree is downright absurd once you read it. [He encloses the Howell email previously described].
“I am in no way a gay activist but allowing this hate speech [sic] in a public university is entirely unacceptable. It sickens me to know that hard-working Illinoisans are funding the salary of a man who does nothing but try to indoctrinate students and perpetuate stereotypes. Once again, this is a public university and should thus have no religious affiliation. Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural rights of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought, not limit one’s worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.
“I can only imagine how ashamed and uncomfortable a gay student would feel if he/she were to take this course. I am a heterosexual male [sic] and I found this completely appalling. Also my friend told me that the teacher allowed little room for any opposition to Catholic dogma. I have cc’d Leslie Morrow, director of the LGBT Resource Center [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender], former features editor at the Daily Illini (I’m sure they’d like to hear about this) and Siobhan Somerville, a former teacher of mine and the founder of the Queer Studies major…(Name redacted).”
Decide for yourself whether Ken Howell’s course is an exercise in hate. To my mind the letter is one of intimidation, designed to silence and remove from the faculty one of the most articulate expositors of Catholic philosophy and theology under the technique of liberal thought-control. How the University of Illinois, the Newman Center, a Catholic monsignor and the bishop of the Peoria diocese could be cowed by such a letter to accept Howell’s firing is beyond belief.Looking at Jenky’s timidity I am edified at how the Church has survived 2000 years: but as Bob Novak reminded me--it must be divine to withstand the Jello-like spineless accommodationism passing for “leadership” it has had all these years including the 20 prelates who abandoned Rome and bowed to Henry VIII leaving only one, Saint John Fisher to face the gallows for his beliefs. Parading around with crosier and miter is heady stuff: that they do with relish, including plopping down on the big gilded thrones at the cathedral daises…but stand up for the faith? Naw. That’s why the pro-abort, pro-gay rights facilitators of The Squid…the Daleys, Dickie Durbin, the AG Lisa Madigan…can trot up to the communion rail without fear of being turned away from receiving the body and blood of Christ unworthily—bestowed from the ecclesial-ringed hands of bishopric toadies.
But the good news is that a combination of bloggers and newspaper coverage has at last alerted the University President…a new man…Michael J. Hogan…to form an academic committee to investigate the issue. Lethargically, the Peoria diocese has conceded that it will move ahead to at least question if not protest Howell’s removal.
Blogger pressure and even the slow entry of the Sun-Times editorial board constitute the good news. The bad? Well, the chairman of the University of Illinois trustees is Christopher Kennedy, son of the late Bobby. Kennedy whom I know well is somewhat different from his ultra-liberal siblings…but…well just how different and how courageous we’ll find out..
*: Saint Vincent DePaul [1581-1660]. You wouldn’t know it if you taught at DePaul (as did I as an adjunct where a militant student body picketed Henry Hyde in behalf of “women’s reproductive rights” and interfered with his lecture to my class while the lay faculty snickered behind cupped hands) but this university duplicitously touts itself as the largest Catholic institution in the country and is allowed free rein by the archdiocese which is too fearful to interfere with a school that is notable for its domination by the Squid and big corporate dough. It is run not just by secularists with a few figurehead compliant priests at the top but is dominated by those who despise the Church, having set up Queer Studies 101 to inveigle freshmen who at a tender age may not be secure in their own sexual identity. Rest assured there is no counter in that class to homosexual advocacy…this served up in the perverted rubric of “academic freedom”. See the Howell case above where exposition of the Catholic religion is termed a violation of church-state.
Vincent DePaul whose memory is slurred at this institution dedicated to his name,was founder of the Vincentian Congregation. He was born to a peasant family at Ranquine, France and was educated by the Franciscans at Dax, then at the University of Toulouse. He as ordained a priest at the very early age of nineteen. Throughout his life he combined his apostolate among the rich and powerful with utter devotion to the poor and oppressed. He was gutsy, advising Queen Anne of Austria and urging her to use her influence with the French to get them to dismiss one Jules Cardinal Mazarin who embodied all that was wrong with the luxuriant clergy, collecting priceless jewels, manipulating the government: in short the chief politician of France. She refused and Vincent got in big trouble for this but he steadfastly refused to back down…so unlike the weak clericals in his name who run today’s university named after him. In addition to this burst of courage he was alert to the dangers of Jansenism, the heretical teaching that certain men are predestined to Hell and others to salvation.
Vincent DePaul died at the age of 80 and was canonized by Clement XII in 1837. Leo XIII named him patron of all Catholic charitable societies.