Harvard University Extension School's Cultural Studies Club has ignited a maelstrom of criticism over its plans to reenact a black mass on Monday.
The university and the Catholic Church have condemned it, but the club says the Satanic mass is simply for educational purposes.
"The club said in a statement 'the performance is part of a larger effort to explore the religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture.'
"The Boston Archdiocese, however, says the mass mocks the Catholic Mass and is 'contrary to charity and goodness.'"
The Harvard Crimson reports that more than 300 students signed a petition, asking the university's administration to disband the performance.
Harvard President Drew Faust called the planned performance "abhorrent," but said the school would still allow it to go on in order to remain "consistent with the University's commitment to free expression."
Faust, also explained why she thought the black mass was particularly offensive:
"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."
Her feeling was echoed by Francis X. Clooney, a professor of divinity at the school. In an editorial for the Crimson, Clooney said the performance runs the risk of becoming a slippery slope.
He wrote quoting the club's reason for scheduling the mass: "... 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."
The Crimson reports that the event will be held at Cambridge Queen's Head Pub in the basement of Memorial Hall at 8:30 p.m. Monday. The paper adds:
"In an email confirming registration to the event last night, the Club wrote that it has hired increased security officers and has been 'informed that additional security will be present and it is possible there may be protesters.' The club added that it will not tolerate any hateful or disrespectful individuals at the event.
"'While we recognize that some people have taken offense, and that is regrettable, please be advised in no uncertain terms that this event was not conceived, intended, or designed as an expression of hate against any group,' the Cultural Studies Club wrote. 'Any guest who makes denigrating statements against any group will be escorted off the premises. Likewise, anyone who attempts to disrupt the performance will also be escorted from the premises.'"