By Kieran Raval
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Fr. Greg Shaffer, Catholic chaplain at George Washington University, posted this on his blog ostensibly in response to the current firestorm of controversy surrounding him. One commenter on Fr. Shaffer’s blog quipped, “Sometimes, they do.”
Fr. Shaffer is being hauled before the court of political correctness by two openly gay GW students, Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen, in what can only be described as a sensationalist politically driven hit job. The charge? Doing his job as a Catholic priest, that is to say, preaching the well-known tenants of Catholicism, quoting scripture (Paul’s letter to the Romans, to be exact), counseling against sin, and calling people to conversion. These particular students are not content with disagreeing with the Church (it is, of course, therein, rather than with Fr. Shaffer, that their dispute lies). They must drag this priest, his good name, and the congregation he serves through the mud according to their political agenda.
Several observations immediately occur to the rational observer, irrespective of his or her views on homosexuality. Catholicism’s teachings on homosexuality are no secret but they are often misunderstood. The article in the GW Hatchet detailing this saga claims that Fr. Shaffer told Legacy that, as a gay man, he was intrinsically disordered. This is highly implausible because, in addition to Fr. Shaffer’s reputation as a very compassionate cleric who, by all accounts, would not say something so pastorally insensitive, the Church does not teach that persons are disordered, but rather that inclinations are disordered.
Furthermore, the rational observer might scrutinize Legacy’s actions and come to the conclusion that he and his fellow inquisitors are not motivated by honest intentions. If Fr. Shaffer had said something in a pastorally insensitive or uncharitable way, and if Legacy was operating from a pure intention he would have communicated his concerns directly to Fr. Shaffer, and, if necessary, to the Archdiocese. Instead, Legacy’s attempt at thinly veiled political character assassination, censorship, and intimidation, smacks of the utter absence of purity of intention. Furthermore, Legacy’s case is not helped by the fact that, in a somewhat bizarre move, he left the Roman Catholic Church to be ‘ordained’ as a ‘priest’ in the “Old Catholic Church,” an obscure schismatic sect originating in 19th century Germany.
Nevertheless, much is at stake in this situation: the place of religious freedom and freedom of speech in the academy and the wider culture, the future of GW’s vibrant Catholic chaplaincy, and the rights of Catholics and any Christians or religious groups that espouse views not in line with the prevailing tenants of secular progressivism. Perhaps most importantly, this situation will demonstrate whether the gay lobby has achieved a victory arguably more important than anything being argued in the Supreme Court: the ability to completely and nearly effortlessly silence anyone who would dare to challenge their cultural orthodoxy by putting forward any moral teaching on homosexuality. Those driving the radical liberal agenda in American have made it very clear that supposed “rights” of sexual license must trump the rights of free speech and religious freedom that hitherto have been fundamental cornerstones of the American political, social, and legal landscape.
It seems that these students indeed know exactly what they are doing. They are undertaking a coordinated plan of attack against Fr. Shaffer, all under the guise of tolerance and diversity: Sympathetic feature articles in the campus newspaper, a video of students airing grievances against Fr. Shaffer, and angry letters to administrators, the university president, and the Archdiocese of Washington. It would not be surprising if it came to light that they were being aided by one or more agenda-driven organization from without the university. This has all of the signs of a carefully orchestrated operation. The main story in the GW Hatchet is very telling in some of its language: the disgruntled students are launching a “campaign” to “inflame” university administrators to “force” Fr. Shaffer out. (Incidentally, Fr. Shaffer receives no compensation from the university. GW funds the student group “GW Catholics” which is only tangentially associated with the Newman Center that Fr. Shaffer oversees.)
The reality is that, at a non-sectarian university, Legacy, Bergen, and their supporters cannot admit and tolerate a legitimate diversity and pluralism of viewpoints and ideas. Evidently, not even the great liberal and utilitarian John Stuart Mill—with his emphasis on freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas—would have a place in their system of radicalized “diversity”, and “pluralism”, the net result of which is anything but diverse or pluralistic, but rather tyrannical. The supposed neutral stance of secular liberalism reveals itself, in the likes of Legacy and Bergen, as setting up its own rigid worldview, which is becoming increasingly tyrannical for anyone who dares to challenge it. Those who been having beat the drum of “tolerance” reveal themselves as fundamentally intolerant.