February 8, 2001
volume 12, no. 39

Two dioceses object to program for April NCEA convention

By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Citing objections to programming at the upcoming National Catholic Educational Association convention, officials of the dioceses of Peoria, Ill., and Pittsburgh said they will not allocate diocesan funds to pay for teachers to attend the convention.

    The dioceses also said educators who decide to attend the April 17-20 convention in Milwaukee on their own will not receive continuing educational credit usually available to them for participating.

    Msgr. Steven Rohlfs, Peoria's vicar general and chancellor, told The Catholic Post, Peoria's diocesan newspaper, that Bishop John J. Myers objected to the scheduling of Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister as a keynote speaker.

    Sister Chittister is a well-known spiritual writer and lecturer. Many of her talks and published works are critical of church teaching on the ordination of women, homosexuality and other issues, and Msgr. Rohlfs described her as a ``dissenter'' from church authority.

    In a memo sent to his staff last October, Father Kris Stubna, education secretary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, stated that ``several objectionable speakers'' were slated for the NCEA convention, ``most notably Sister Joan Chittister.'' He sent a memo Nov. 22 to school and catechetical staff advising that diocesan staff will not attend.

    Father Stubna told Catholic News Service Feb. 2 that diocesan officials reviewed the program for the NCEA convention ``as they would any program of formation to see if it follows our guidelines, and this program simply did not.''

    But ``no one has been barred from going'' to the convention, said the priest, referring to media reports that claimed teachers would not be allowed to attend the event even on their own.

    Sister Chittister is scheduled to give the keynote address during the closing day of the convention on ``spirituality and educational leadership,'' which Claire Helm, NCEA's director of leadership development, described as the nun's forte.

    The nun, who was out of the country when CNS tried to contact her, said in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter weekly newspaper that she thought what the two dioceses were doing violated the tradition of Catholic education.

    ``This is an unfortunate but an important situation,'' she told the paper. ``It's not about me. It's about the attitude, our attitude as a church toward thinking, ideas, and development of a mature faith.''

    Helm told CNS she has never heard of dioceses saying they will not support the annual convention, which draws thousands of Catholic school teachers and religious educators from around the country for four days of workshops and general sessions.

    ``But we've certainly had speakers that not everyone has liked,'' she told CNS.

    In a memo to pastors, principals, directors of religious education and chaplains in the Peoria Diocese, Msgr. Rohlfs noted that the diocesan educators have participated in the NCEA convention for years and in the past the gathering ``has been helpful for the most part.''

    ``Unfortunately, this year we are not assured that authentic Catholic teaching will be presented throughout the programs of the convocation,'' he wrote. ``It is with great regret that Bishop Myers has decided that in light of the above concerns Catholic educators in the Diocese of Peoria will not be sponsored for their participation in the convocation this spring.''

    Convention speakers are typically chosen a year prior to the event and are recommended to NCEA officials by people from the host region, which in this case is Milwaukee.

    ``We try to honor their requests, unless someone is off the wall,'' Helm said.

    An NCEA statement said that ``throughout the 98-year history of the convention, various speakers and sessions, have, on occasion, resulted in some lively discussion. As a professional Catholic educational association whose mission is to serve its members, NCEA works diligently to advance the teaching mission of the church.''

    Many dioceses give their teachers a chance to earn continuing education credits for participating in the NCEA convention, specifically for attending two keynote sessions and at least five workshops and then writing a 10-page report on what they learned and how they plan to use it.

    Helm said the ``numbers were still on track'' for attendance at this year's convention. Last year the NCEA convention in Baltimore drew more than 10,000 Catholic educators.

    ``My hope is that we can get some attention to the 400 other speakers'' at the convention, she said, noting that this year's gathering also will feature a special symposium on school choice, particularly because Milwaukee has been at the forefront of the issue.

February 8, 2001
volume 12, no. 39
USA News
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