For the last five years, Father Greg Shaffer has served as chaplain at the Newman Center at George Washington University. Fr Greg is a holy and compassionate priest – a spiritual father, beloved by many of the catholic students on campus at GW (as well as many Catholics living in D.C. and across the country).
Now, he is being attacked by the school’s newspaper, The Hatchet, and two students campaigning to have him removed from ministry as well as the GW Catholics group defunded of university funding. All because Fr Greg is faithful to the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and the dignity of the human person.
The attack began last week during Holy Week, shortly after Fr Greg had returned from leading 20 students on an “alternative spring break” trip to repair homes and serve people in need in Appalachia. The Hatchet derided Father Greg for supporting traditional marriage and for emphasizing the church’s teaching on chastity.
This week, two more stories have been published featuring one of the young men leading the campaign. Damien Legacy, who says he experienced psychological distress as a result of Fr Greg’s counsel, told The Hatchet that “at least a dozen students…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.” The Hatchet goes on to quote Mr. Legacy saying:
“We have to appeal to him. In the end, he’s the one preaching on Sunday. He’s the one counseling these students. The money doesn’t matter to him, but when you see the faces of the people you’re turning away, you see the people who say ‘Oh, I would go to church all the time, but I don’t like Father Greg.’ When you meet them at their level, that’s going to hit them harder because it’s something they’re going to understand.”
I’ll state the obvious first. As a priest of the Catholic Church, it is Fr Greg’s moral obligation to preach the Truth as proclaimed in the Catechism. He has done so with kindness –concerning himself not with the purely temporal happiness of those who look to him for guidance, but with zeal for their souls and eternal welfare.
Mr. Legacy’s attempt to “appeal” to some other variable, to reduce this issue to the “views” of one man – a humble and holy priest who other GWU students have been very quick to defend for his compassion, understanding, and gentleness – misses the point completely.
The very purpose of Fr Greg’s presence on campus is to provide pastoral care in the context of the Catholic faith to students who come to him. To expect his preaching to change, or to expect a new chaplain to preach any differently, shows a profound misunderstanding not just of the Catholic faith but of the role of Catholics in the public square.
Fr Greg and the Newman Center shine Christ’s light across the GW campus and throughout the city of Washington whether it is doing service work at Gift of Peace home (which supports the homeless and those suffering from AIDS), cooking meals for the homeless, or holding food and clothing drives for pregnant women in need.
With the support and blessing of other Catholics and people of good will, the Newman Center and those within it will continue to bear Christ to the students of GW and the people of D.C. And that will continue to include sharing the truth about the intrinsic dignity of each individual human being, regardless of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or baseball team preferences.
The Newman Center is a place of community, compassion, service, and faith formation – to “tone down” the message would be to violate the Gospel principles on which it is based and would be doing a disservice to all of the students it serves.
Please pray for Fr. Greg and the students of GW, and all those seeking to lead in the service of truth.
The GWU Newman Center is currently preparing four students for the seminary and was even recognized at the Vatican Synod for the New Evangelization as one of the premiere successes of the movement. They need our prayers – and if possible, our financial support!