Catholics rally behind DC priest amid controversy

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Students and parishioners are speaking up for a Catholic priest after two gay students at George Washington University said they want him removed for supporting the Church's stance on homosexual behavior.

"I have never seen Fr. Greg be less than compassionate to any student on an issue of sexuality," Catholic author and speaker Dawn Eden told CNA April 5. "He's been instrumental in helping them to find healing in Christ."

Eden, who is a parishioner at Saint Stephen Martyr Parish where Fr. Greg Schaffer serves as chaplain to the GWU Newman Center, said participation in Catholic life "shot up exponentially" since his arrival in 2009.

These comments come in the wake of an effort by two former Newman Center members seeking to force Fr. Schaffer off campus at the D.C. university, saying that they felt alienated by his defense of the Church's teaching on homosexuality.

Seniors Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen, both of whom are gay, want Fr. Schaffer removed because he taught that homosexual behavior is immoral, consistent with the teaching of the Catholic faith.

The students said that the priest had told individuals who came to him for counseling that if they experience same-sex attraction, they should remain celibate.

Asserting that this was unacceptable anti-gay behavior, the two gay students have launched a campaign to force Fr. Schaffer off the campus. According to the campus newspaper, they have filed a formal complaint with the administration and are holding a vigil outside the Newman Center until the priest is removed.

Legacy, who is now a priest in the schismatic Old Catholic Church, submitted a report to the administration outlining a program used by other schools to vet religious leaders before bringing them to the campus and plans on asking the Student Association to defund the Catholic student outreach center which reportedly received $10,000 last year.

Current and past Newman Center students have voiced their support of the priest on a blog called, "The Chaplain I Know." They argued that it was ridiculous to try to penalize a Catholic priest for upholding Catholic teaching and offered testimonies on Fr. Schaffer's character, calling him "self-sacrificing," "encouraging" and instrumental in their conversions back to the Catholic faith.

"The kindness and unconditional affection he expressed was what gave me the strength to realize that I was loved despite my mistakes," one contributor wrote.

If Catholics are looking for "someone to rally behind" in order to tell the culture where they stand, Eden said, Fr. Schaffer is "a good and holy priest" worthy of such support.

"We need to stand up for a Catholic priest who is true to his vocation and who is promoting and defending the Gospel for the good of souls," she added.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue has called Legacy and Bergen's campaign a "serious civil issue" that should be the subject of a "campus wide discussion on the meaning of the First Amendment."

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