A Satanic mass scheduled by a Harvard student club was canceled Monday after the school president as well as the Archdiocese of Boston condemned the ceremony and its co-sponsor, the New York-based Satanic Temple.
"Everyone involved, outside of the Satanic Temple, got really scared," Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves told The Boston Globe
. "And I don’t necessarily blame them, because I understand that they were getting a lot of vitriolic hate mail, and I don’t think they expected it."
Robert Neugeboren, dean of students and alumni affairs at the extension school, expressed relief at the students' decision to drop the mass.
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"The Harvard Extension School is grateful the student group has recognized the strong concerns expressed by members of the Harvard community and beyond," he said.
The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club decided to move the mass off campus this week after an outcry from the local community, but plans to hold the event at the Middle East club in Cambridge fell through for undisclosed reasons, and the group then canceled the event altogether. However, the club's members confirmed that the desecration would go on without them.
"The Satanic Temple has informed us that they will stage their own black mass ceremony at an undisclosed private location," the club wrote in an email. Greaves confirmed to The Globe at 10:35 p.m. Monday that the mass was "happening now" at the Hong Kong lounge in Harvard Square.
After hearing of the plans to host the Black Mass last week, Archdiocese spokesman Terry Donilon expressed the church's "deep sadness and strong opposition" to the ceremony, saying "The event is offensive to Catholics and people of good will."
"This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places the participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil," he said.
University president Drew Faust, a historian, also condemned the ceremony, and said he would instead attend the Catholic Church's mass on Monday to protest the Black Mass. That procession eventually drew 1,500 people.
"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," he said.
In response, the Harvard student group defended the Mass, saying they did not truly worship Satan, but were rather interested in the historical, cultural, and educational aspects of the Black Mass.
"Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes," the group said in a statement, "but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices."
They said they also planned to host a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibit, and a presentation on Buddhist meditation in addition to the Black Mass.
Neugeboren rebutted the group's argument, saying, "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."
Rev. Francis X. Clooney, in an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson, also found the group's defense deficient.
"The endeavor 'to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices' might in another year lead to historical re-enactments 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," he wrote.
It remains unclear whether the group canceled the event out of sensitivity, logistical difficulty, or self-awareness, perhaps realizing the sophomoric nature of what they likely thought were creative and rebellious plans.
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