WASHINGTON, D.C., April 5, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Catholic students at George Washington University are rallying to the support of their beloved priest after two gay seniors launched a campaign to kick him out of his post at the university’s Newman Center for preaching that homosexuality and abortion are sinful.
The GW Hatchet, a campus newspaper, reported this week that seniors Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen are spearheading the campaign. The story has since been picked up by numerous other news outlets.
The students say that they will file a formal complaint with the university, release a video featuring ten other students who share their opinion, and hold prayer vigils until the priest is removed from his post. They are also demanding that the university’s Student Association defund the Newman Center, which receives $10,000 a year.
In their letter of complaint the pair will reportedly cite studies showing how being around “homophobic” behavior can lead to loss of appetite and problems sleeping.
The students complain that Fr. Greg Shaffer has spoken out against gay “marriage” and abortion, and has counseled homosexual Catholic students to embrace celibacy. They said they were disturbed when Fr. Shaffer quoted the Book of Romans and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
One of the two students, Damian Legacy, says he spent a large portion of his free time at the Newman Center during his freshman year at the university, including serving at Mass, and that he had hoped to become a priest. However, Fr. Shaffer reportedly disapproved when he found out that Legacy was in a relationship with another male student, and that he and Bergen were both running for offices with the gay rights organization Allied in Pride.
“To have my faith leader view me that way, just because of one piece of the way that God made me, and to think that one part is responsible for the destruction of my human dignity, it just didn't, I can’t even begin to describe the mental conflict that it creates,” Legacy said.
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Catholic students rally to defense of Fr. Shaffer
Meanwhile, a student at the university has launched a website in support of Fr. Shaffer. Entitled The Chaplain We Know, the site features dozens of glowing testimonies from students about how the priest has touched their lives, and paying tribute to his spirit of service and passion for the Catholic faith.
Several students spoke of the priest’s willingness to meet with them at any time of day or night when they were in crisis or needed support. One described how, overcome with guilt during her freshman year, she had randomly called the priest at 2:00 in the morning on a Friday.
“I don’t even know why,” she said. “I was a freshman, and I wasn’t even that Catholic yet. I dialed his number because I found his business card in the chapel. And he answered, and I was sobbing like a little baby and he didn’t even know who I was but he met me at the Foggy Bottom metro, and we talked and he got me Confession.”
Another student described how, after he learned that his father was dying from cancer this past Christmas, Fr. Shaffer cancelled his plans and drove nine hours to be with the student’s family. There he celebrated Mass and prayed over the student’s father.
“I will never forget or be able to truly express my gratitude for the selflessness and charity he showed by coming to be with my family over this past Christmas break,” wrote the student, who said that his father has since defied the doctors’ prognosis and dramatically improved.
Interestingly, one of the gay students who is seeking to oust the priest shared a similar story about Fr. Shaffer’s dedication, telling The Hatchet that he knew the priest would always answer his telephone, even if he called him in the middle of the night.
Chris Crawford, the student behind The Chaplain We Know, told LifeSiteNews.com that he was motivated to start the site because "Fr. Greg has been an enormous source of strength for GW Catholics."
"He is like a father to many of us. When we need someone to turn to, he is always there to answer our call - even if we call his cell phone in the middle of the night," said Crawford. "Whenever we need him, he is there to help us and to show us love and support. Lately, a false caricature of Fr. Greg has been created by some of the media on campus. This caricature is not in line with the loving, supportive Chaplain that we know. I wanted people to know the loving, supportive chaplain that we know."
Crawford said since the story broke, Fr. Shaffer, GW Catholics, and The Chaplain We Know, have "received an overwhelming outpouring of support."
He said he hopes that the publicity around the campaign from the students will lead people to check out the Newman Center. "If people, even those who expect to dislike us, come to The Newman Center to learn more about us, they will become closer to Christ. The Newman Center is a welcoming place in which everyone is loved. This is like our home away from home."
Meanwhile, he said, he is praying for the two students who have launched the campaign, whom he doesn't personally know.
Archdiocese, other Catholic organizations support Fr. Shaffer
Other Catholic organizations have also stepped up in support of the priest. In a letter to the university, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League described the two students’ complaint as “an attack on the freedom of expression of Catholics on campus to discuss their religious beliefs and practices with impunity.”
Patrick O’Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic education watchdog organization, told Fox News he found the whole incident “absolutely disturbing.”
"Chastity outside of marriage has been the Catholic church teaching for more than 2,000 years," he said. "The only discrimination occurring there is trying to silence a priest for trying to teach the Catholic faith."
The Archdiocese of Washington has responded to the controversy with a statement defending their priest. While the GW Newman Center is affililated with the university, it is officially part of the archdiocese.
"Fr. Greg Shaffer, chaplain at the Newman Center on the campus of the George Washington University, shares the teachings of the Catholic Church in a welcoming and joyful manner. His ministry is a vital component of the vibrant faith community on campus," reads the statement.
"The Catholic Church welcomes everyone. The teachings, however, are not tailored to an individual's personal beliefs," it continues. "Thus, priests have a commitment to educate people in the truths of our faith, regardless of the current cultural trend."
“Forgive them, Father”
The university has said it is investigating the complaint. Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed released a statement saying that the university "strives to embody the spirit of mutual respect and reasoned debate that is essential to our academic mission."
"We are therefore committed to ensuring that all members of our community are free to express their religious beliefs while honoring the right of others to express theirs," the statement read.
Fr. Greg has not yet responded at length to the accusations, other than in one quote included in the Hatchet article, in which he said that freedom of religion and freedom of speech are “important rights that play a vital role at a diverse university like GW,” and that they are on his side.
However, in a blog post Wednesday, the day before the story was published in the Hatchet, he posted a photo of Jesus sitting on some rocks, with the words “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
A message left with Fr. Shaffer was not returned by press time.