Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
In the past couple of days, Harvard University has heard from a slew of Catholics outraged about the planned reenactment of a Satanic mass on campus. The university issued a press release explaining that it wasn't endorsing the event, while the Boston Archdiocese has strongly opposed it, portraying it as an affront to Catholics and dangerous for anyone who participates in it:
This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil.
[UPDATE: Catholics takes such matters very seriously. In fact, this week at the Vatican, Pope Francis is hosting a conference on exorcism. ]
Now, Father Roger Landry, a Fall River, Mass. priest and a member of Harvard's undergraduate class of 1992, has joined his voice to the chorus of Catholics who want the Satanic mass canceled. And he argues that the university would offer a very different response if a planned event provoked outrage from Jews or Muslims.
In a May 8 letter to Harvard's president Drew Faust, Father Landry states
To argue, as the Extension School’s Press Release did, that it’s about education or freedom of expression or assembly or religion is silly. We all know that if there were to be a seance to communicate with the soul of Adolf Hitler, Harvard would never countenance it, first because we’re clearly dealing with conjuring evil, and second because it would be terribly injurious to Jewish members of the Harvard community and the wider community.
We also all know that if an “independent student organization” were trying to host an event in which there would be reenacting the burning of a copy of the Koran, it likewise would never be permitted, because Harvard would never associate itself would the desecration of Islam’s sacred text or allow its name or property to be used in something that would obviously outrage the spiritual sensibilities of Muslims.
Recently Brandeis University canceled plans for an honorary degree for a female scholar who had strongly criticicized the treatment of women in Islamic societies. Reportedly, Brandeis' administrators concluded that Muslim students and faculty on campus would perceive the award ceremony as an attack on their faith.
Today, The Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger writes about the appearance of "'trigger warnings' that professors are expected to post with their course to avoid 'traumatizing' students," who might disagree with ideas that challenge their views about race, heterosexism, etc.
By comparison, the event sponsored by Harvard Extension is not a lecture, nor a panel discussion--both appropriate and traditional features of university life. Instead, notes Father Landry, it is
A ceremony invoking Satan, mocking the Catholic Mass and desecrating what Catholics believe to be the Body of Jesus Christ — or if, implausibly, an unconsecrated host will be used, something that is at least meant to symbolize the Eucharist — should be treated in the same way.
Thus far, however, Harvard appears disinclined to act, and that reluctance suggests that the principle of tolerance is not applied universally at U.S. institutions of higer education. It is content-specific, and that means some beliefs just don't merit respect.
That said, Father Landry tells Faust that it is not too late to cancel:
I’m hoping that you will use your office to respond as strongly to this insensitivity as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently used his office to respond to Donald Sterling’s racist comments. That’s what this situation warrants. That’s what you have the power to do. And that’s what I’m asking and praying that you will do.