Cambridge, Mass. – Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust called a student club's decision to enact a satanic black mass "abhorrent," but said the school must uphold its values of open discussion and debate even in the face of controversy.
In a statement released Monday morning, Faust said the planned reenactment "challenges" the university to "reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university" with their commitment to "foster a university based on civility and mutual understanding."
The mass, which is expected to take place Monday night inside Memorial Hall, is organized by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club and is part of a series of events exploring different cultures and religious traditions.
"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," said Faust, an American historian who is the first woman to serve as Harvard's president.
Faust went on to say that the black mass mocks a deeply sacred event on the Catholic religion and is highly offensive.
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"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," said Faust, who added that the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs.
Faust plans to join other members of the community at a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul's Church on the university's campus Monday.
Last week, the organizers of the controversial satanic mass said their intent is purely educational.
The student club said in a statement that "the performance is part of a larger effort to explore the religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture."
"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," the statement said.
The Boston Archdiocese, however, says the mass mocks the Catholic Mass.
"For the good of the Catholic faithful and all people, the church provides clear teaching concerning satanic worship," the archdiocese said. "This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil."
The Rev. Michael Drea, senior chaplain at the Harvard Catholic Center, said the academic freedom argument is a smoke screen.
"The black mass is a contradiction to the Catholic faith and is rooted in hatred and bigotry," he told the Boston Herald. "The university shouldn't tolerate something like this under the guise of academic integrity."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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