Thursday, April 16, 2009
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].