Diocese protests 'disrespect' at Carnegie Mellon University parade

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At the request of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University officials are investigating an incident during a campus parade in which a female student dressed as the pope, appeared naked from the waist down and distributed condoms.

The parade took place April 18 as part of CMU's carnival and its participants were students from the university's College of Fine Arts.

Photos of the female student showed her dressed in half of what appears to be a garment that resembles that worn by the pope and a large pointed hat with a cross on the front. The lower part of her body was naked and she had a cross shaved into her pubic area.

"It is offensive to me and the church that I represent. It crosses a line," Bishop David Zubik said.

"I think that among the things that we are dealing with here is a disrespect of one of the most important symbols of Christians -- the cross and what the cross means. For Christians it's a symbol of what we know Jesus Christ did for us."

In a written statement, CMU said: "We are continuing our review of the incident. If our community standards or laws were violated, we will take appropriate action."

CMU is not disputing the description of the event, but spokesman Ken Walters said he could not comment beyond the written statement.

Bishop Zubik said diocesan officials were notified of the incident Friday when someone contacted the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, the diocesan spokesman, and forwarded photographs from the parade. Father Lengwin contacted CMU officials and asked for the review.

Bishop Zubik said he expects to hear from CMU by the end of the week, though Mr. Walters could not confirm that timeline.

The parade, called the "4th Annual Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby: The Greatest Show on Earth," was held on the campus along a grassy area known as the "cut." It featured arts students in outrageous and humorous costumes, some scantily or lewdly dressed.

The incident also drew the attention of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

"Our big concern is that here we have somebody mocking the leader of the faith of 68 million Catholics in the United States and their leader is being mocked, and mocked not jokingly but grotesquely," said Patrick McNamara, director of communication for the Catholic league.

"This can be a learning experience for all of us," Bishop Zubik said. "All of us when we are in college and experiencing freedom for the very first time, we have all done some very dumb, dumb things." He said he hopes the female student and others learn a lesson about how their actions can be seen as discrimination against others.

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Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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