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Zubik: Papal parody at CMU 'crossed line'

Debra Erdley
| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

A Carnegie Mellon University student's march across campus, half naked and handing out condoms while dressed in mock papal finery from the waist up, “crossed over the line,” Bishop David Zubik said on Tuesday.

Zubik, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said he contacted university officials last week when someone sent the diocese photographs of the young woman, whose pubic hair was shaved in the shape of a cross.

The photos were taken when the College of Fine Arts hosted its fourth annual spring carnival parade, the Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby, on April 18.

Zubik said Carnegie Mellon officials promised to respond.

“The most important thing is that we all learn a lesson from this. This is a teachable moment,” Zubik said, adding that he would be equally dismayed had an incident involved a Jewish Star of David or a Muslim crescent moon.

“This is a respected university, and they've been a good neighbor,” Zubik said.

By Tuesday afternoon, university officials had not released the identity of the student and would say only that an inquiry is under way.

“We are continuing our review of the incident. If our community standards or laws were violated, we will take appropriate action,” said spokesman Ken Walters.

No reports or complaints about the incident appeared on the campus police log for that day. Photos on the Downhill Derby Facebook page show male students wearing only fur thongs during the 2012 parade.

Told that photos of this year's carnival showed the semi-nude woman cavorting in a mock gondola with two other students — one dressed to parody an altar boy and the other a gondolier — Zubik said he was unaware of the other players.

“What bothers me is, it seems there is less and less appreciation of the sacred,” he said.

Few students taking a break in the afternoon sun on the Oakland campus on Tuesday complained about the parody.

Allison McKnight, a senior computer science major from Gibsonia, saw the parade and “thought it was a little weird.” She said some of her friends thought the young woman went too far and others “said that's just CFA” about the art department in the College of Fine Arts.

“People are into their personal freedoms, expressing their personal freedoms and taking a stand,” said Joell Weil, a sophomore musical theater major from Seattle.

Jason Lewis, a sophomore in theater design, said any sanctions against the woman “would be incredibly unfair.”

“If no one ever poked holes in political correctness, we'd still have segregation,” said fellow sophomore Camille Rohrlich of Paris.

Amy Costello, a staff minister with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Carnegie Mellon, was at a prayer shack on the lawn, a place where students can stop to pray. She said she wasn't aware of the incident.

“I know some people have had negative experiences with religion, but that seems a forceful way of expressing it,” Costello said, suggesting that public nudity laws might apply.

The Catholic League, a New York-based national Catholic civil rights organization, urged the university to take action.

“We would like to see that Carnegie Mellon not tolerate this. You can't expect that there's going to be no sanctions whatsoever,” said league spokesman Patrick McNamara.

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

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