Thursday, April 16, 2009

Photo Op

Recently there have been a series of acts of vandalism in which sacred art at Georgetown has been defaced, including twice the vandalization of the statue of the Virgin of Fatima near the front gates of the University.

Thus it comes as a surprise to learn that, at some point before President Obama's speech in historic Gaston Hall on the campus of Georgetown, someone appears to have covered in black cloth the letters "IHS" and cross that are displayed directly above the speaker's head at the center of the stage (compare the photos above). [Update: It was apparently members of the White House team, with consent of the administration of Georgetown University, that covered over these symbols of Christian and Catholic faith]. In light of the calls of the leaders of the University that the University community demonstrate renewed respect for the sacred symbols of our Catholic tradition, it is a tremendous disappointment that this obscuring of the Cross and the name of Jesus Christ was permitted to take place.

I am deeply disappointed that the President would have so wished to have a certain "neutral" backdrop that he would have been willing to have his team cover sacred symbols of a major world faith. It's hard to imagine that his team would have done the same at a Jewish or Muslim institution. I'm even more disappointed that my own institution, Georgetown University, would have agreed to allow symbols of our faith to be covered. We certainly owe respect to the wishes of a visiting dignitary such as the President of the nation, but the wishes of Caesar do not obviate our commitments to our faith and to our God. We should have had the courage of our convictions - or convictions, to start with - and declined the request to cover the Cross and the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As hosts, we had that right and prerogative to decline the request, and there were other spaces in the DC area where the Obama team would not have had to commit such an offensive act to attain the appearance of secular purity. Georgetown should have been willing to allow the speech to take place elsewhere if the President's team was unwilling to have him speak under the Cross - under God. Better to be true to God than to Caesar. I fear the University sought the favor of the wrong King - shame on us.

[This is an updated entry in light of the recent press releases about this incident that have come from the White House and the University].


Black Sea said...

Perhaps the black shroud was inadvertently left in place following Good Friday . . . or something.

Anonymous said...

The White House allegedly ordered this done:

Anonymous said...

The White House has apparently responded, but says a whole lot of nothing.

"The President appreciated the gracious hosts at Georgetown University where he delivered his speech on the state of the economy. Decisions made about the backdrop for the speech were made to have a consistent background of American flags, which is standard for many presidential events. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply false."

Anonymous said...

I myself am not a very religious individual, but the fact that my university seemed willing to accept the censorship of its identity completely baffled me. I understand that they wanted a backdrop that was consistent with other Obama speeches, however, "IHS" was not covered by the backdrop. They went out of their way to ensure it would remain unseen. I was surprised at the University's decision to allow "IHS" to be covered solely because the White House ordered it. It made me ashamed that my own university would compromise such a fundamental part of its identity because a person of power appears to have ordered it. It just seems inappropriate that we must compromise or hide a part of our identity solely because the White House requested it. Had he spoken on the lawn would we have had to remove our Lady of Fatima? I just hope this incident does not repeat itself, for I am a Georgetown student and stand proud of my University's identity and I hope that Georgetown will have the courage to have pride in its roots and foundations as a religious institution as well. It was as if the University was telling students that it is acceptable to give up parts of their own identity, especially if a "powerful figure" orders it. I would expect something better from an institution like Georgetown.

Evangeline said...

You completely expressed my thoughts on the selling-out of our so-called Catholic universities... thirty pieces of silver and less!

Anonymous said...

The treason of Western leaders is quite the fad these days. In fact that is how they got to be leaders in the first place.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for having the courage to write this piece. My question is, where is the SJ community on this? Have you spoken or heard from the head of the Ministry Father Philip Boroughs, S.J.?

Anonymous said...

The coverup sounds reasonable to me. If the Pres.does this at every university, so be it. Does anybody really care anymore that Georgetown has Catholic origins?

There are 28 Jesuit universities alone in the US, it is hardly special, but I doubt much of this has much relevance to the President (or to me, to be honest).

Just returned yesterday with a Catholic priest from one of the most Catholic countries in the world (East Timor) and you should hear his complaints about the enormous land assets of the church there (while peasant farmers have so little), the privileged lifestyles of the clergy in one of the poorest countries in the world, its conservative or middle of the road political interventions over the years (with the exception of Bishop Belo), high school fees charged to catholic primary and high school students, etc. etc.
Give us a break.

Rdr Joseph said...

OTOH, if the IHS symbol had been anywhere near the President, his detractors would have claimed that he was sending subliminal messages that he, the President, was the Messiah, which many of his haters accuse his followers of proclaiming him as. It's a lose-lose.