Catholics defend controversial priest

by Chloé Sorvino and Allison Kowalski

Catholics at GW and across the nation decried the student campaign this week to push the Newman Center priest off campus.

Prominent Catholic activist and president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights Bill Donohue announced Thursday that he would send a letter to University leaders condemning the student-led effort to oust Father Greg Shaffer.

The letter called the effort – which stemmed from seniors Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen’s claim that Shaffer forced students out of the church because they are gay – a “serious civil liberties issue.” At least 10 other students said they felt alienated by the Newman Center because of Shaffer.

“It is an attack on the freedom of expression of Catholics on campus to discuss their religious beliefs and practices with impunity,” the letter read.

Donohue rejected the students’ allegations of mental anguish caused by Shaffer because students did “not offer any evidence of abusive speech or behavior.”

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard did not return a request for comment regarding Donohue’s letter.

Members of GW Catholics have also stood up for Shaffer since Bergen and Legacy announced the campaign. Junior Chris Crawford created a blog which, as of Sunday, featured 35 student testimonies describing positive experiences with the priest.

“Over time, I have noticed that a certain narrative had emerged about Father Greg that was not actually in line with the Chaplain we all love. We know him as a man of humility, patience and unconditional love, and this blog reflects that,” Crawford said.

One anonymous poster on the blog wrote that Shaffer drove nine hours to join the individual’s family after learning that his or her father had stage-four cancer just before finals and wouldn’t live past a few weeks. He also blessed the father.

“During the 24 hours that he was with us, Father Greg also was able to celebrate Mass with my family and give my father a blessing with Lourdes water. 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,” the student wrote.

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