Reaction to a story published April 9, 2013 in Bondings 2.0.
by Doughlas Remy
(Background: Last month, two gay seniors at George Washington University in Washington D.C., filed a formal complaint with the University’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion against Fr. Greg Shaffer, Chaplain at the Newman Center, which receives funding from the GWU Student Association. The students, Blake Bergen and Damian Legacy, claim that Fr. Shaffer has created an environment hostile to GLBT students seeking pastoral care at the Newman Center.)
This is where change will come from. The new generation of young people in Catholic universities have little patience with spiritual bullying of the sort that Fr. Shaffer practices, and I believe they will either win their case against him or both the Newman Center and George Washington University will take a hit. Let’s not forget that students these days generally select the universities they will attend, and so they are a force to be reckoned with. GWU cannot survive without them. The Newman Center there depends on the GWU Student Association for a significant amount of its funding.
And let’s not imagine that it is just a couple of gay activists demanding Fr. Schaffer’s ouster. The two seniors mounting the campaign–Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen–have the support of many straight students on the campus, many of whom have also complained of Fr. Schaffer’s harsh counseling style and his homophobic homilies.
He tells gay students that they should be celibate for the rest of their lives (!) and calls their relationships “unnatural and immoral.” He called Legacy “wicked and faithless” and “intrinsically disordered” for being gay. Legacy reports that he was on an “emotional rollercoaster” for months afterwards, losing sleep and appetite.
Under the law, Fr. Shaffer is free to speak as he likes, even if his counseling is abusive. But if he is upsetting the students who come seeking pastoral care, then he may have to take his abusive speech elsewhere. The younger generation of Catholics are not afraid to challenge him.
Bergen and Legacy filed their complaint in GWU’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. The University has a zero-tolerance policy toward harassment or bullying of LGBT students. Fr. Shaffer’s conduct appears to be in violation of that policy.
In response to charges that they are “persecuting” Fr. Shaffer, Bergen and Legacy have explained their position:
Let us be clear, we are not attacking the Roman Catholic Church. We are by no means asking the Church to change its views on same-sex marriage, nor are we seeking validation or celebration of our sexuality by the Church, or anyone for that matter.
What we ask is to be treated with dignity and respect at our university. We ask that the Chaplain of the George Washington University Newman Catholic Student Center, a man charged with the pastoral care of students by a non-university entity, treat each of us with equal love and value. We ask that our university provide a safe and welcoming environment for every student.
Can we not agree that our students should be safe in schools and that all bullying should be stopped? Furthermore, as an institution dedicated to acceptance and inclusion should GW not be called to take steps to stop homophobic bullying along with all other forms of bullying? We might not all agree about full celebration and inclusion of LGBT civil rights, but we can all agree that bullying should be considered unacceptable, especially from our spiritual leaders.
We have been criticized for waging an intolerant attack on civil liberties by speaking out against a religious leader for espousing discrimination and anti-LGBT rhetoric. Hate in God’s name is hate, not religion.
4/26/13: Further thoughts:
For some time now, we’ve been seeing the fruits of the diversity programs that began in the K-12 schools 20 years ago, especially in the progressive urban areas of the East and West coasts. My own son, now 25, is a product of those efforts, and I couldn’t be more pleased. He gets along with everyone and I’ve never heard him bully or disparage anyone.
University students now have high, though certainly not unrealistic, expectations about the respect that they are due. It must have been a shock for these two GWU students to be treated in ways that would have been completely unacceptable in their K-12 schools. The Catholic Church is going to lose these young people unless it can change its message, which they rightly perceive as psychologically or spiritually abusive.
It is sad that the secular schools, and not the Church, were the ones to lead on this. What efforts has the Church made to stop bullying and teach respect for diversity in the schools?