- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The two gay George Washington University students who gained national attention for their campaign against the chaplain at the school’s Catholic campus ministry issued a letter Monday night in which they claim to have been misrepresented.

But Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen insisted in that same letter that they would continue to push the university to act against the Rev. Greg Shaffer. Nor did they back off on their efforts to have the Archdiocese of Washington remove him and for the Newman Center ministry to be defunded.

Mr. Legacy and Mr. Bergen’s letter said they “would like to clear up what our message is” and said it wasn’t about Catholic doctrine on homosexuality and abortion but that “because of the words and actions from those at the Newman Center, an atmosphere of intolerance and stigma permeates onto our campus.”

The archdiocese and prominent Catholic figures across the country had rallied behind Father Shaffer after Mr. Legacy and Mr. Bergen complained in the student paper, The GW Hatchet, about Father Shaffer telling students, per Catholic teaching, that people with homosexual attractions should remain celibate and chaste. The two seniors also told The Hatchet that Father Shaffer spoke against gay marriage and abortion.

Though the two men now say they never called for GW to remove Father Shaffer, Monday’s letter reiterated their two demands of the university. One is that the school determine whether “any violation of university anti-discrimination policies” by the priest has occurred, and the other is that the university acquire the power “to vet and confirm campus religious leaders of all faiths” in order that the school “hold them accountable.”

The statement also did not address what The Hatchet had reported about Mr. Legacy planning to ask the Student Association to investigate if the Newman Center violated the campus policy on discrimination and should lose up to 50 percent of its funding. The statement also did not mention their petition to the archdiocese.

On April 4, The Hatchet also reported that Mr. Legacy and Mr. Bergen would create a video testimonial of themselves and 10 other students as well as hold prayer vigils outside the Newman Center until Father Shaffer was removed from his post.

Mr. Legacy and Mr. Bergen could not be reached for comment until Wednesday, when Mr. Bergen clarified he and Mr. Legacy’s petition to the university.

Soon after the original story was published, national Catholic news groups and blogs picked up the story, and Mr. Legacy and Mr. Bergen wrote an op-ed article for The Huffington Post. The issue was covered on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” show Monday as well.

While George Washington University does give funding to the Newman Center, Father Shaffer was appointed to his position by the Archdiocese of Washington, which has stated it will continue to support Father Shaffer and said the ministry is “a vital component of the vibrant faith community on campus.”

“The Catholic Church welcomes everyone,” stated the news release from the archdiocese. “The teachings, however, are not tailored to an individual’s personal beliefs. Thus, priests have a commitment to educate people in the truths of our faith, regardless of the current cultural trend.”

Catholic GW students, parents and alumni also have shown support for Father Shaffer. A blog created by a GW student called The Chaplain We Know asked people to share positive stories about the priest.

GW junior Chris Crawford started the blog to support Father Shaffer because the student was frustrated with how the priest was being portrayed in the media.

“There was a universal understanding that they wanted to remove him,” Mr. Crawford said.

Mr. Crawford has been talking with Father Shaffer daily and said the priest has been amazed at the outpouring of support he has received.

Father Shaffer is also very proud that his students have not “gone on the offensive” but have been praying for their priest and the students who are petitioning GW, according to Mr. Crawford.

The priest has not commented on the controversy and was unavailable to comment to The Times.

“He doesn’t like to be the face of things,” Mr. Crawford said. He also said most people he has talked to, even friends who “despise the church,” have said Father Shaffer should not be removed because he upholds Catholic doctrine.

On the blog, one international student wrote about being “enraged” when Father Shaffer defended traditional Catholic teachings on abortions in a Mass, so he wrote the priest an angry email expressing his disagreement.

“I was expecting a defensive reaction, but instead he thanked me, he thanked me for opening myself and expressing my thoughts. Instead of arguing back, he just loved me and understood my anger and pain,” said
the student, who said he was from South America.

The student went on to say the priest took an hour every week to talk to the student. The student said while they still do not support many church teachings, they will “always stand with Father Greg.”

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