GWU students rally behind embattled Newman Center priest

Fr. Greg Shaffer criticized for calling homosexuality “immoral,” counseling gay students to remain celibate

Catholic students at George Washington University in Washington, DC are rallying behind Father Greg Shaffer, who runs the school’s Newman Center and who has come under fire for his statements about Church teaching, particularly those concerning homosexuality.

From the GWU student paper, the Hatchet:

Two gay seniors who said they felt alienated by the Newman Center’s controversial priest will launch a campaign this week to force him off campus.

At least a dozen students, including seniors Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen, say they have left the Newman Center in the last several years because Father Greg Shaffer’s strong anti-gay and anti-abortion views are too polarizing. Shaffer, a Roman Catholic priest, has spent five years preaching to GW students. …

The students lambasted Shaffer’s counseling sessions, in which he said he advises students who are attracted to members of the same sex to remain celibate for the rest of their lives. They also criticized the priest for a fiery blog post he wrote last May, calling gay relationships “unnatural and immoral” after President Barack Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage.

According to the report, Legacy and Blake sent a letter to the GWU administration, including the president, demanding Shaffer’s removal from the Newman Center. The school’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion is reportedly reviewing the case as well.

In response to the campaign against Father Shaffer, a group of Catholic GWU students has launched a blog dedicated to compiling positive stories and testimonies about Father Shaffer. From “The Chaplain We Know”:

During our time as students, we have all turned to him during difficult times and he has always welcomed us with open arms. No matter what sins we bring to his feet, he has been there to help with a Christ-like compassion and love. Even when we feel as though the rest of the world has walked out, Fr. Greg is there to comfort us and to help us to overcome our challenges.

Father Greg has helped The Newman Center to become our home away from home. He has led our community to be one big family united in our faith in God and our desire to live out the joy of The Gospel.

Catholic author and blogger Dawn Eden has also written about Father Shaffer, who serves at her parish, St. Stephen Martyr:

With the help of the FOCUS missionaries whom he helped bring to the university, Father Greg has fostered an exponential increase in Catholic students’ participation at the Newman Center. The centerpiece of his program is making the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation accessible. Under his administration, the Newman Center has expanded its sacramental life to encompass twelve and a half hours of Eucharistic adoration a week, liturgies that include daily Mass (sometimes twice) and four Sunday Masses, and daily hours for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. On Easter Vigil, he received two new Catholics into the Church and confirmed nine more. All this in addition to a men’s discernment group and the usual Newman Center array of socials, speakers, etc.

Need I add that the GW Newman Center is producing more vocations to the priesthood and the religious life than most churches in the Archdiocese of Washington?

On the subject of priestly vocations, the GWU Hatchet published a profile of the two seniors leading the campaign against Father Shaffer, one of whom was ordained last October by the North American Old Catholic Church, which is not part of the Roman Catholic Church:

Now on the precipice of graduation, the openly gay student is an ordained priest within the North American Old Catholic Church, which encourages LGBT members to join its clergy. Legacy was ordained in October, and since then, has held personal morning masses and structured prayer sessions six times a day. He also hosts masses for other students in his City Hall room.

The co-founder of Dignity GW, a campus group for LGBT Catholics that he started in 2011, Legacy rallied for same-sex marriage outside the Supreme Court last week in his clerical collar. He said when he came out at the age of 15, his religious mentors embraced him before his parents did.

Last May, Father Shaffer published a post on his blog in which he stated that “marriage is between a man and a woman. Period.”

This is not just divine law, it is natural law (the law imprinted on each of our hearts about good and evil). Every single rational person knows that sexual relationships between persons of the same sex are unnatural and immoral. They know it in their hearts. And, yet, they go against what their hearts tell them when they try to argue for same-sex relationships and “gay marriage”.

Blake Bergen, one of the students currently leading the charge to have Father Shaffer removed from GWU, told the Hatchet: “Mr. Shaffer’s blog post has direct psychological implications on students here at GW. To be told that something they know to be perfectly acceptable is ‘unnatural and immoral,’ takes a toll.”  At the time Father Shaffer said, “I don’t apologize for the Church’s teachings, but if my presentation of the teachings caused anyone to be personally hurt, I am truly sorry.”

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.