As a New Jersey governor and national Republican figure, Christie Whitman won votes and political acclaim by supporting abortion rights.Appointed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency by President Bush with a year left in her second term, it's worth noting that the prayer service preceding Whitman's 1998 inaugural was held in Newark's Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart over objections from church pro-life activists.
But the stance got Whitman bounced from a speaking gig at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic school of 550 girls in Princeton Township.
Whitman, who served as New Jersey's first and only female governor from 1994 to 2001, was booked to speak at a "Women in Leadership Forum," which had been scheduled for last night before the school canceled the event at the request of Diocese of Trenton Bishop John M. Smith.
In a Sept. 23 communication to the school, Smith wrote that Whitman, 62, has made her pro-choice position known for years and thus supports something that is "totally contrary" to Catholic teachings and the church's moral responsibility to respect human life from conception to natural death.
The invitation, Smith wrote, could mislead students, teachers and faculty to falsely conclude that the school supports abortion rights.
In a Sept. 30 e-mail to the school community announcing the cancellation, headmistress Sister Frances de la Chapelle, conceded, writing, "We are sincerely disappointed that we will not be able to hear Governor Whitman speak about leadership to our students. However, as a Sacred Heart School, we respect and honor the views of the Roman Catholic Church."
However, de la Chapelle wrote that one of the school's core goals is to "provide a rigorous education that incorporates all forms of critical thinking and inspires a lifelong love of learning."
And added, "We are saddened that our students, and the wider community, will not be enriched by the lively discussion and critical thinking that surely would have re sulted from Governor Whitman's lecture on leadership, values, and the environment."
"We constantly strive to educate our girls to be critical, independent thinkers. Stuart's entire program is designed to raise confident girls whose faith and sense of God lead them to change the world for the better," the statement said. "I ask that we pray for our Church, Governor Whitman, and ourselves at this time."...
Diocesan spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett declined to elaborate on why Smith chose to intervene in the Whitman event.
However, Bennett used the issue to remind all of the Catholic schools in the diocese that they should be contacting the diocese when inviting people to speak who have unknown or questionable beliefs that are contrary to fundamental church teachings.
Two years later, John Paul II named the event's host as archbishop of Washington, following up with the red hat in what, at the time, was record speed.
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