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Estés picked over Prejean as Catholic press keynoter

NCR Staff

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of the best-selling non-fiction book Women Who Run With the Wolves, will be the main speaker at the annual meeting of the Catholic Press Association in Denver this month, superseding previous plans by some of the association's leaders to have Sr. Helen Prejean speak.

The subtitle of Estés' book is Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.

Prejean is author of Dead Man Walking, a book based on her experiences counseling men on death row. The book became an Oscar-winning movie, and the St. Joseph nun became a nationally recognized crusader promoting the church's view that capital punishment is wrong. Recently, however, Prejean has become controversial with some church leaders who question her views on abortion and women priests.

Francis X. Maier, spokesman for the Denver archdiocese and local coordinator for the May 21-24 meeting, said Denver officials regard Estés, a psychotherapist who lives in the Denver area, as better suited than Prejean to promote the meeting's theme, "The New Evangelization."

Maier said, "We had other agendas we wanted to pursue and we could not find a way to make her [Prejean] fit into that."

The need for a "new evangelization" to meet the needs of humanity in the third millennium has been a favorite topic of Pope John Paul II for the past four years.

Maier, speaking of Prejean, added: "I'm concerned by some of what I've read about her on life issues, about the continuity of her views. I do know her views have run afoul of a couple of bishops. I don't know what I would have done had she been the only option, but we had other options, and we feel we've made a good choice."

A board member of the Catholic Press Association, speaking off the record, said Prejean had been invited to address the group last year, but was unable to because of scheduling problems. She agreed to speak at this year's meeting instead. Resistance in Denver led to a compromise decision, the board member said: Prejean's appearance will be postponed until next year, when the meeting will be held in New Orleans, where Prejean lives.

Maier said church officials had learned about Estés through a letter she wrote to a local news station objecting to a broadcast she found offensive to Catholicism. Officials invited Estés to lunch, Maier said, and "found her to have something to say about the role of the Catholic church as a potential witness to the secular world" on matters of "conscience and humanity."

Maier said he had not read Estés' book but is confident from conversations with her that she will serve well in the speaker's role.

"We met her and were affected by her ... when we were at the stage of casting the conference," he said. "I found her to be an attractive personality with interesting things to say. She has a very interesting combination of high intellectual skills. She is a Jungian analyst and a very competent and articulate presence. She does a lot of public speaking and she was extremely accessible. We were very impressed by that."

Estés' book is about feminine psychology and is not explicitly religious. But Maier said she had described herself as a practicing Catholic in their meeting.

NCR was unable to reach Estés before press time.

Questions about Prejean's views became public in February when Bishop Nicholas C. Dattilo of Harrisburg, Pa., declined to introduce her at a meeting sponsored by opponents of capital punishment in his diocese.

Church officials in Harrisburg said the bishop had questions about her orthodoxy on abortion and women priests based on an interview she gave last year to a reporter for Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic weekly. Officials also cited reports that a new book Prejean is writing may question the church's ban on women priests.

St. Joseph Sr. Margaret Maggio, Prejean's assistant in New Orleans, told NCR in February that Prejean is "for life across the board." As for her views on women, Maggio said Prejean will discuss them after her book is published.

National Catholic Reporter, May 2, 1997