GSA: ORGASM Head Was Unfair

MAIL

To the Editors of The Crimson:

In his recently published letter to The Crimson ("ORGASM President: GAS Was Close-Minded," February 2), Leon L. Lai '91 attempts to portray me and the rest of the 1990 Catholic Student Association (GSA) Steering Committee as opposed to open dialogue and discussion in our response to ORGASM's showing of a video entitled "Stop the Church."

He challenges my behavior both as an organizer of a protest to "Stop the Church" and as the president of the Steering Committee for soliciting a public apology from Thomas B. Watson '91, the Steering Committee member who was partially responsible for the showing and its publicity.

I contend that our response to "Stop the Church" was sound, thoughtful and responsible, and showed the greatest respect possible in the tradition of rational discourse which is deeply rooted in Roman Catholicism. Indeed, it is Lai who should reconsider the validity of his own claims to openness and freedom of expression when he defends that which we have spoken out against.

The problems began with ORGASM posters which read "Stop the Church" twice in large, bold letters, described policies of the Church as "murderous" and employed fighting language to incite anger against the Church. The ACT-UP protest to which the posters refer and which the video documents is infamous among Catholics, many of whom know from detailed press accounts that it involved not only disruption of a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, but desecration of the Eucharist, perhaps the most precious symbol in the Catholic faith.

Though the act of desecration (which ACT-UP has failed to disavow) was not depicted in the video, both Watson and Lai have freely and publicly admitted that the video presents the protest in a positive light. This was apparent even to those who had not seen the video because of the hostile tone of its publicity and the close affiliation of the filmmakers with ACT-UP.

Many students, including myself, wished to express constructively our anger and paint at the appearance of anti-Catholics propaganda on campus, at ACT-UP's frequent infringements on the religious freedom of Catholics and especially at their desecration of the Eucharist. At the same time, we felt unwilling to participate in ORGASM's event, as we wished to make no semblance of complicity with the offenses of the ACT-UP protest.

Unlike Lai and Watson, we chose to avoid being perceived as connected in any way with "Stop the Church," precisely because ACT-UP's protest so clearly eschewed lawful respect for a plurality of political and religious viewpoint and the freedom to express them. (In retrospect, it seems both ironic and telling that Lai has refused to condemn these infringements of freedom and openness, but at the same time, has angrily accused me of subverting intellectual discourse.)

With these considerations in mind, two other Catholic students and I discussed the possibility of a peaceful protest. In order not to disrupt the viewing of the video, to avoid confrontation, to minimize distortion by the press (to no avail) and to reflect most clearly our feelings of spiritual pain, we decided that a silent, vigil-like protest would be the most appropriate course of action. We believed that our placards, the literature we distributed, our collective statement to the press (which The Crimson never published) and our solemn attitude would most effectively communicate our purpose to the public.

As our numbers grew past 20, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the ideal of silence, especially since newcomers were not always fully informed of our planned approach. In one instance, I respectfully explained our strategy and the reasons for it to a newcomer who had already begun talking to those who were showing the video. It is this interaction which Lai imaginatively describes as my attempt "to physically pull her away and silence her."

Lai fails to mention that after the video was over and we felt that our statement of protest and non-compliance had been adequately made, protesters and members of ORGASM did indeed engage in a lively discussion, a development I was pleased to see.

In the wake of all this, several Catholic students expressed additional concern over the apparent contradiction between Watson's public identification with the Catholic community as a vice president of GSA and his responsibility as co-president of ORGASM for showing and publicizing the anti-Catholic video. At a Steering Committee meeting the next day, Watson was given ample opportunity to relate his side of the story. He willingly took responsibility for the posters and the showing of the video, acknowledged the conflict of interest that this actions entailed and expressed regret for the pain which resulted from his actions.

At the end of the meeting, Watson agreed that an apology was necessary, and left it to the rest of the Steering Committee to determine exactly what form that should take. Two days later, the other four members of the Steering Committee met and drafted a letter of apology, based directly on the conclusions of our discussion with Watson. After presenting our final draft of the statement to Watson, we made some additions and subtractions at his request, and he willingly signed it. Unlike Lai, I do not consider this treatment "fascist."

Lai's slanderous attack on me and the Steering Committee has distressing implications for broader perceptions of Catholicism at Harvard. I hope that Lai has not succeeded in awakening anti-Catholic sentiment by invoking dated and shopworn stereotypes of Catholic students as "hav[ing] swallowed whole the dogmatic and hierarchical stance" of the Church.

I am sure that many Catholic students at Harvard and elsewhere would be more than willing to engage in a dialogue with Lai about his concerns if he would first demonstrate a modicum of respect for sacred. I also hope that a clear description of the sequence of events will persuade the Harvard community of the openmindedness of Catholic students, despite the distortions and inflammatory rhetoric that Lai employs to argue otherwise. Anthony R. Picarello, Jr. '91