From the Archdioceses of Boston:
CAMBRIDGE, MA (May 12, 2014) – A Eucharistic procession from the Catholic chapel at MIT was followed by a Holy Hour of Adoration and Benediction at St. Paul Parish, the home parish of the Harvard Catholic Student Association. The Holy Hour was scheduled in response to a planned Satanic black mass to be held at the same time by a student club on the campus of Harvard University. The Holy Hour was attended by about 2,000 people, including Harvard president Drew Faust.
(Photo credit: George Martell/The Pilot Media Group) All photos available under a Creative Commons license, Share-Alike, Attribution-required.
“Black Mass” Canceled: Cultural Studies Club Reconsiders Event
May 12, 2014
The following statement was issued by Robert Neugeboren, dean of students and alumni affairs at Harvard Extension School:
We understand that the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club has indicated their decision to cancel the “Black Mass” reenactment on Harvard’s campus scheduled for this evening, moving it instead to a location off campus. For more information, please contact the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club.
The Harvard Extension School is grateful the student group has recognized the strong concerns expressed by members of the Harvard community and beyond.
May 12, 2014:
President Drew Faust has issued a statement regarding the “Black Mass.”
May 9, 2014:
The following statement was issued by Robert Neugeboren, dean of students and alumni affairs at Harvard Extension School:
Students at the Harvard Extension School, like students at colleges across the nation, organize and operate a number of independent student organizations, representing a wide range of student interests. The Harvard Extension School does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely.
In this case, we understand that this independent student organization, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, is hosting a series of events—including the reenactment of a “Black Mass”—as part of a student-led effort to explore different cultures.
We do not agree with the student group’s decision to stage an event that is so deeply disturbing and offensive to many in the Harvard community and beyond. While we support the ability of all our students to explore difficult issues, we also encourage them to do so in ways that are sensitive to others.
To that end, the Harvard Extension School has worked with the club’s student leaders to address specific concerns that have been expressed. For instance, we have ensured that no consecrated host will be used as part of the reenactment. Also, in an effort to help broaden the educational nature of this series, the Harvard Extension School has urged the Cultural Studies Club’s student leaders to reach out to Catholic student organizations on campus to foster a positive dialogue about the Catholic faith. The club’s student leaders have agreed to this proposal.
We hope these efforts and this dialogue will help address some of the most severe concerns about the event, while also helping students in the Cultural Studies Club better understand the perspective of many Catholics on these and other issues.
Questions about the event should be directed to the Cultural Studies Club at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An open letter to Dean Thomas Dingman, Dean of Harvard College Freshmen:
Dear Dean Dingman,
As you well know, the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club plans on hosting a “historical re-enactment” of a Satanic Black Mass. Though the university has issued multiple statements stating that the event will continue as planned, citing the club’s freedom of speech and assembly, we, as freshman in the Harvard Christian Community would like to express our individual concerns about the topic, which we feel have not been discussed, nor taken into consideration.
To begin, the Black Mass, as well known, is an open invitation calling on Satan. We understand that the club continues to mark this event as a re-enactment, and not an actual religious rite, but this is a distinction without a difference. The “mass” would actually be said, and therefore the devil will be invoked. As Christians, we feel that this calling of the devil invites him to our campus and compromises our ability to go about our daily lives in Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub, Memorial Hall, Sanders Theater, and Annenberg Dining Hall.
When we first moved into the yard, our proctors, advisors, and other faculty all promised to uphold and guarantee our safety, and we have found that this promise has been upheld, until now. You see, after Monday evening, we feel that Cambridge Queen’s Head, Memorial Hall, Sanders Theater, and Annenberg will no longer be safe, inviting, or comfortable places for us. With less than a week of school left, and in the midst of finals period, this added stress and fear has not helped our mental health, nor has it promoted a positive or accepting environment.
It is not just the students that we are worried about. Having eaten most of our meals in Annenberg, we have become friends with the staff and are concerned for the effects this event will have on their work environment. No employee of Harvard, or anywhere else, should feel uncomfortable where he or she earns a living, and we’re certain you believe that as well Among the staff, there is a general feeling of great unease about this enough. One staff member who wished to stay anonymous said that although he was only slightly comfortable, he knew many more members of the staff who felt very abused and victimized. This morning, we went to the staff and talked to Maria, who had this to say about the event: “I am very uncomfortable… I believe the people coming here are not coming here to do anything good, and that’s what scares me…I would rather die for my faith than allow events like this to take place…I feel unsafe.”
It is one thing for us students who are able to go out to eat or to other dining halls if the restrictions would be lifted. However, it is another thing for those staff members who are compelled to work in Memorial Hall serving, cleaning, and cooking during and after this hateful event.
Some of us feel the area is already uninviting in anticipation of the event, while others have vowed never again to step foot in any of the affiliated buildings after the ritual. This is not an act of stubbornness, but rather rational concern driving us away. We would like an explanation as to why this event must occur on the college’s campus, especially at a major place of congregation for the undergraduate community, instead of a location off campus or at a location generally intended for Extension School Students.
Our additional concern regards the character of Lucien Greaves–leader of the Satanic Temple invited to perform the re-enactment . Originally named Doug Misicko, Mr. Greaves has a long history of close involvement with the “false-memory syndrome” foundation, a group that often downplays the ramifications of sexual-abuse and actively denies victims true support. Seeing that Harvard has recently been accused of not providing adequate support to sexual-abuse victims in just the past few months, and given the student body’s reaction to such allegations–including the launch of “Our Harvard Can Do Better”– we think that this event is in direct opposition to any progress that has been made thus far. If such an individual, or his associated organizations, is welcome on campus, not only does it create a hostile environment for us as Christians, but also for those of us who refuse to stand for sexual abuse on campus or anywhere else.
This is not just a Christian issue, but rather an issue that affects the student body and the rest of the Harvard community as a whole. We know the university has already been made aware of our religious concerns and is reluctant to use those arguments as the sole justification of cancelling the event. We understand that the interest of the university is to provide opportunities of self-expression, but, we believe the university also has an obligation to protect the safety and mental well-being of its students. This event has already made us feel unsafe on campus and has the potential to threaten many others. It makes us feel like less valued members of the Harvard community and erodes our trust in the institution and its commitment to our personal safety. Additionally, we feel that Harvard is not upholding its legal and ethical obligation as described by Dean Michael D. Smith in his most recent university-wide email regarding sexual misconduct.
Please take these concerns to heart and bring them to the attention of Dean Shinagel and President Faust.
Thank you for taking the time to read our letter; we truly appreciate anything you can do to help us and the rest of the Harvard community,
A statement by President Drew Faust
The reenactment of a ‘black mass’ planned by a student group affiliated with the Harvard Extension School challenges us to reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university with our commitment to foster a community based on civility and mutual understanding. Vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge, and we must uphold these values even in the face of controversy. Freedom of expression, as Justice Holmes famously said long ago, protects not only free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.
But even as we permit expression of the widest range of ideas, we must also take responsibility for debating and challenging expression with which we profoundly disagree. The ‘black mass’ had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory.
Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond—and to address offensive expression with expression of their own.
I plan to attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul’s Church on our campus on Monday evening in order to join others in reaffirming our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.
A Disconcerting Incident
I am the Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, and a Roman Catholic priest. On all three counts, I am concerned about the plan for a black mass hosted by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club on Monday, May 12.
The club explains: “Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices. This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture.”
If only the organizers had said more on which “religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture” are highlighted in the performance of a black mass. This is, after all, a practice that, as far as its murky history reveals, seems often to have included the inversion and blaspheming of Catholic sacramental practice, as well as actual worship of Satan. Will these dimensions be present in Monday’s enactment? And what’s next? The endeavor “to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices” might in another year lead to historical reenactments of anti-Semitic or racist ceremonies familiar from Western history or parodies that trivialize Native American heritage or other revivals of cultural and religious insult.
Such events would surely raise legitimate concerns among all of us at Harvard; no one should be surprised if Catholics are concerned right now.
In response to the growing concern about this event, Robert Neugeboren, dean of students and alumni at Harvard Extension School, has said: “Harvard Extension School does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely. In this case, we understand that this independent student organization, the Cultural Studies Club, is hosting a series of events—including a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation—as part of a student-led effort to explore different cultures.”
If only the University had managed to show that it recognizes the potentially great differences between “a Shinto tea ceremony,” “a Shaker exhibition,” and this black mass. It is too easy, and rather superficial, to compare a black mass with a “Buddhist presentation on meditation.” Why not present a Catholic presentation on the Eucharist? No one would have objected to that. All of us at Harvard should be able to understand why many on and around campus are greatly worried about the prospect of a black mass, possibly in parody of the Catholic Mass that is a living faith practice celebrated each day in congregations that include Harvard faculty, staff, and students.
The club also insists that “while a piece of bread is used in the reenactment, the performance unequivocally does not include a consecrated host.” It is remarkable that what we Catholics hold to be a precious sacramental reality has become big news at Harvard in May 2014. Since there is no empirical way to show that one host is consecrated while another is not—consecrated hosts do not glow in the dark—there is also no way for anyone but the organizers to know whether a host used in a black mass has been consecrated or not.
Yet the identity of one isolated host is not the only point. Also at stake is sensitivity to the faith of a community that believes in, shares, and worships around this sacramental sign. Catholics at Harvard should not have to be worrying about where Monday’s host comes from. And if it turns out that this week’s black mass proceeds on the quite different premise that “the supernatural” is in fact meaningless, then of course there can really be no question at all of a “consecrated” host for those involved—nor of a real God or a real Satan. In that case, ironically, even the black mass itself, stripped of faith and faith’s uncomfortable commitments, would end up being emptied of meaning, trivialized.
Most importantly, perhaps, this event raises a larger issue: As a university community we need to do better in handling matters of religious import. It is not enough to say that Harvard is a secular institution, as if living faith and practice matter only off campus or in private. We need to have, on occasion, difficult discussions that necessarily involve matters of faith and faithful practice. Sometimes these discussions will unsettle the University’s ordinary and smooth manner of proceeding. After the lawyers have spoken and free speech has been reaffirmed, and after we all agree that much is to be learned from the history of our religions, we still need to be able to talk together about the sometimes difficult reality of living religion at Harvard.
Not only is our humane and spiritual sensitivity at stake, but also our intellectual credibility. Shall we not see this event of a black mass on campus as a reason to convene a new and deeper conversation on how religions are alive, vocal, and unruly even at secular Harvard?
Francis X. Clooney is Parkman Professor of Divinity and director of the Center for the Study for World Religions.
Hatred at Harvard
Ten thousand men and women of Harvard have spoken against the hateful event scheduled to take place tonight at Memorial Hall. Students, alumni, parents, and friends of the Harvard community are outraged, embarrassed, and, more than anything, deeply saddened that Harvard has permitted the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club to host a reenactment of the Satanic “Black Mass” on campus. This ritual is explicitly intended to parody the Catholic Mass in the most offensive way possible. Historically, black masses have involved desecrating the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the real body of Jesus Christ, by placing it on the genitals of a naked woman, urinating on it, and slitting an infant’s throat to pour blood over it.
Early reports from Patheos stated that the Cultural Studies Club “have obtained and will use a consecrated host during this ‘re-enactment’” based on a conversation with the group’s PR director. This would need to have been obtained illicitly from a Catholic church for their purposes. However, the most recent statement released by the Extension School has recanted and assured the public that the ritual will involve an ordinary piece of bread.Conflicting reports have continued to emerge. On Wednesday Undergraduate Chaplain Fr. Matthew Westcott urged parishioners at St. Paul’s to consume the host in front of the priest and ministers to ensure the safety of our most precious religious practice. Actions intended to inspire such fear among the Catholic community have no place among our tolerant and “welcoming” Harvard.
Even if the members of the Satanic Temple do not employ a consecrated host, there are a number of problems with the desecration of Catholics’ most important sacrament. As somealumni have been bold enough to mention, Harvard would never allow a reenactment of the burning of the Quran for the sake of religious or free expression, or even education. While the Satanic Temple rejects the idea of the supernatural and does not believe that their actions have metaphysical implications, we believe they are summoning true evil into the heart of campus and thus, like the Archdiocese of Boston, revile it. In fact, they are inviting the prince of darkness to sit among the most vulnerable of our community, the freshmen, in the safe space that they use to eat, socialize, and study. Furthermore, they are cowards—if the Satanic Temple were seeking to truly foster campus dialogue, they would not have chosen this time when students are busy and stressed with finals. We are saddened that our last days on campus as seniors will forever be tarnished by Harvard sanctioning hateful acts against the most important thing in our lives: our Catholic Faith.
As Harvard Catholics, we completely reject the educational pretenses under which this event has been sanctioned. The Cultural Studies Club and the Extension School’s originalstatement emphasized that, as part of a series of events including “a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation,” the club is presenting an educational effort to “explore different cultures.” The Satanic Temple, which is really behind this particular event, is a religious community guilty of greater fundamentalism than any group it intends to mock. Any notion that the Satanic Temple is simply a cultural group is nonsense.
Many of our friends and the leaders of various campus fellowships, such as Harvard Christian Faith in Action, the Latter-Day Saint Student Association, Christian Impact, and the Harvard Islamic Society, have shown support for us in the Catholic community at this difficult time. For that, we are unspeakably grateful. Others, like responders over House lists and trolls on Facebook, have only added insult to injury by saying that that the Church deserves this hatred. As followers of Christ under the leadership of Pope Francis, we can only hope that such responses come from ignorance rather than malice.
In response to this event, the Harvard Catholic community has rallied around three petitions that together have already gathered 40,000 signatures. At the current pace, thegroup of undergraduates who organized the petition expects the number of signatories to grow to 50,000 by Monday afternoon. We are presenting the petitions to University President Drew G. Faust with the hope of having the event cancelled. Regardless, we will unite in prayer and solidarity. Our friends at MIT will lead a Eucharistic Procession to St. Paul’s Parish in Harvard Square, where the Harvard Catholic Community will host a Holy Hour from 8 to 9 p.m. This is a time of prayer for those who seek to persecute the Church and the University that has allowed it. The only response to such overwhelming hate is that of Christ Himself: love.
Aurora C. Griffin ’14 is a classics concentrator in Pforzheimer House. She is the former President of the Harvard Catholic Student Association and co-founder of the Harvard Daughters of Isabella. Luciana E. Milano ’14 is a government concentrator in Pforzheimer House and co-founder of the Harvard Daughters of Isabella.
May 10, 2014—submitted to The Harvard Crimson
As Harvard Chaplains, we write to express our concern about the plans of a student group at Harvard’s Extension School to host a re-enactment of a “Black Mass” on campus this coming Monday evening. The students, who call themselves the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, are partnering with a New York-based organization known as the “Satanic Temple” to put on the event. Although the students have not released details of the performance they intend to stage, a “Black Mass” by its very nature typically involves the mockery and ridicule of the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion.
For many Christians, the practice of sharing the bread and the wine of Communion embodies some of their deepest beliefs about humanity’s relationship to the transcendent as reflected in the life and teachings of Jesus. It is for them a sacred rite to be treated with the utmost respect and love. For this reason, many in our community—including especially our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, who appear to be the target of this event—are understandably distraught and hurt when they learn that some of our students believe that an appropriate way to engage in learning about the religious beliefs and practices of others is to denigrate them through a mock performance like a “Black Mass.”
The Harvard Chaplains represent a wide diversity of religious and philosophical perspective—including most of the major Western and Eastern religious traditions, as well as the perspectives of atheists, agnostics, and those genuinely uncertain about what they believe. One value that we share, however, is a commitment to engaging in discourse about life’s “big questions” in a manner that is open and honest, but also respectful. Our aim is to support the wider Harvard community in framing a thoughtful conversation about issues of meaning and value without the need to vilify or parody those with whom we differ. As chaplains we desire to help the wider community seek mutual understanding about religious matters; but just as important, when there is disagreement, as there often is, our hope is that we can learn to disagree in ways that are civil, caring, and supportive of our shared humanity.
We hasten to add that we do not think the issue presented here is primarily one of “academic freedom.” Just because something may be permissible does not make it right or good. Whether or not these students are “entitled” to express themselves through the ceremony of a “Black Mass” as a matter of law or University policy is a distinct question from whether this is a healthy form of intellectual discourse or community life. We submit it is not.
We urge the student organizers of the “Black Mass” to re-consider going forward with this event. If the event does go forward as planned, we would urge the rest of the community not to dignify it with your presence.
This article is an op-ed submitted to the Harvard Political Review by the Cultural Studies Club of the Harvard Extension School and does not reflect the views of the HPR.
We are aware that many people in the community have taken offense to the planned reenactment of a Black Mass ceremony based on a literary source, and we have deliberated extensively over whether to proceed with the event. It gives none of us any pleasure to upset good people. For our personal lives, cancelling the event would be a great relief. We are under a great deal of pressure from many sources, have endured coordinated attacks via email, and have even received intimidating letters. All this leads us to ask: how do we benefit by defending the rights of others to express religious beliefs that are not even our own?
Obviously, not all forms of expression are constructive or pro-social, and some forms of speech need to be curbed. This is recognized by the delineation of what is referred to as “hate speech.” Hate speech is communication that has no purpose other than to express hate for a specific group and is likely to incite violence. While some people are offended by satanic practices, the Black Mass ceremony does not meet the criteria for hate speech and is as valid as any other form of religious expression. People might find the rituals offensive to their sensibilities, but there is no expression of hate towards any group, and there is no incitement of violence. This ceremony does not silence any individuals from expressing their respective faiths as they see fit. No one is intimidated in such a way that they feel they cannot behave as they choose. Those who oppose this reenactment simply feel that their deeply held rituals are being mocked.
The problem with their argument is that Black Masses are performed in private. If the rituals were intended to offend or mock as opposed to being personal affirmations of spiritual faith, they would not be performed privately without notice given to whomever they allegedly seek to offend. For those who have likened this event to reenacting a KKK rally or some other atrocity, this would be akin to Klan members burning a cross inside their own home for religious reasons and telling no one. The comparison simply does not hold. This semi-public event is a reenactment that is intended to shed light on the beliefs of a marginalized group that has continuously been denied a voice in our society. Their rituals serve their own affirmative purposes and, as they are performed today, have nothing to do with any entity that has taken offense. The attacks on the Satanists reek of religious bigotry, but because this bigotry is being performed by the dominant culture, the Satanists are the ones that are made to appear insensitive.
There are great misunderstandings about marginalized cultures and faiths and their practices, and the mission of our club is to allow these voices to be heard. We have received interest from many hundreds of people who want to attend the event, and we believe these interested parties are curious to learn more and mean no disrespect to anyone. Equating the offense of one’s sensibilities with hate will lead to the death of liberty for all. People should implicitly recognize that efforts to silence voices that a majority may disagree with must not be tolerated in a pluralist society.
While much of the mail we have received has requested we cancel the event, we have received several supportive letters that highlight the importance of staging this event. The following is an example:
“I’m sure you’re getting a ton of mail about this, but maybe not so many that are supportive. I’m really proud of your group for providing an outlet for minorities to let their voices be heard. It’s important that the lesser known (and lesser loved) groups be able to teach others about themselves without being drowned out, overrun, shuttered, and censored by the majority. It never fails to amuse me that at the slightest whiff of a Black Mass, the Christians will come out of the woodwork to try to shut it down as offensive, but you never hear of Satanists protesting Sunday schools or baptisms.
Equality is sometimes too much to ask, but your respect of the Satanic Temple in giving them the validation you’d give any of the other religions means a lot to me. I’m not a member of any Satanic group (and I’m too far away to attend the event), but my hat is off to the Cultural Studies Club and to Harvard for not only saying so but for demonstrating that all religions, even the unpopular ones, deserve a spot on the world stage.
Thanks for your time and good luck with the event.”
Returning to the original question posed, how do we benefit by defending the rights of others to express religious beliefs that are not our own? The answer is that this defense is central to the very fabric of democracy, and it is this ideal that keeps society from edging towards fascism.