Carnegie Mellon University chief apologizes for papal parody

Debra Erdley
| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

A Carnegie Mellon University coed's semi-nude papal parody in a spring carnival parade was “highly offensive,” university President Jared Cohon said on Wednesday.

“We have procedures for a reason: to protect both the university's interests and those accused of violating our community standards or policies. We will take the time necessary to discharge our responsibility to treat those involved fairly,” Cohon wrote in a campus email.

Before Cohon's statement, Carnegie Mellon's only response was that officials were reviewing the April 18 incident to determine whether community standards or laws were violated.

Cohon said he intended to remain silent until the review was complete.

“But in light of comments I have heard from people on and off campus, I have decided that an update is in order,” he wrote.

“I regret that this occurred and I apologize to all who were offended by this, for religious or other reasons, and especially to those who witnessed this behavior.”

The College of Fine Arts sponsored the parade, its fourth annual Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby.

Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh contacted the university last week after receiving photos from the parade. He asked university officials to address what happened.

A young woman, wearing mock papal robes from the waist up but naked from the waist down, handed out condoms. Her pubic hair was shaved in the shape of a cross. Another student parodied an altar boy.

The First Amendment could be a defense if someone tried to press criminal charges against the unidentified student, said Vic Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

“One of the things that are troubling about this is the calls for punishment because she offended the leader of a religious group,” Walczak said. “Free speech means nobody is above criticism, from the president to the pope.”

Carnegie Mellon has not identified the woman in the photos. She did not respond to repeated attempts to contact her.

A spokesman for the diocese did not return a call seeking comment about Cohon's statement.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or

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