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MIT Catholic chaplain forced out after message on Floyd killing and protest

The MIT campus in Cambridge. The Archdiocese of Boston asked the university's chaplain to resign last week.
The MIT campus in Cambridge. The Archdiocese of Boston asked the university's chaplain to resign last week.Scott Eisen/Bloomberg News

An MIT chaplain was asked to resign last week after he sent a message to the university’s Catholic community suggesting that George Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis police officer may have had nothing to do with racism and questioning Floyd’s character.

The Archdiocese of Boston asked the Rev. Daniel Patrick Moloney, who had been MIT’s chaplain since 2015, to resign on June 9 because of an e-mail he had sent two days earlier in the midst of nationwide protests over the killing and calls to address racism in policing and other parts of society.

“The personal opinions echoed in his comments regarding the murder of George Floyd do not reflect the positions of the Archdiocese,” a statement sent to members of the MIT Catholic community announcing Moloney’s resignation last week said. While the comments should not reflect on all of Moloney’s ministry, the archdiocese statement continued, “they nonetheless were wrong and by his resignation he accepts the hurt they have caused.”

The archdiocese became aware of Moloney’s e-mail after being notified by MIT’s Catholic community and university alumni, said Terrence Donilon, a spokesman.

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In his message, Moloney said that while Floyd shouldn’t have been killed by the police officer, “he had not lived a virtuous life."

“In the wake of George Floyd’s death, most people in the country have framed this as an act of racism,” Moloney’s message read. “I don’t think we know that. Many people have claimed that racism is a major problem in police forces. I don’t think we know that.”

Moloney went on to state that police “deal with dangerous and bad people all the time, and that often hardens them.”

Moloney is the author of a recent book, “Mercy: What Every Catholic Should Know," and before he was ordained as a priest in 2010 was briefly a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank, according to the MIT Catholic website.

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On Tuesday, Moloney said he was trying to speak out against the cancel-culture that diminishes both Floyd and the police and to talk about how solidarity among people has been frayed.

“I regret what happened, I regret it was misunderstood, I regret that became difficult for me to be a voice for Christ on campus,” Moloney said. “The whole thing went down in a way that I wish were otherwise. ... I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

MIT officials said the university received reports from many in the university community who were angered and hurt by the comments.

“The message from Father Moloney was deeply disturbing,” Suzy M. Nelson, a vice president and dean for student life said in a message sent Friday to leaders of student organizations. “Those who wrote me and other senior leaders were outraged, and many felt abandoned and alienated by their faith. By devaluing and disparaging George Floyd’s character, Father Moloney’s message failed to acknowledge the dignity of each human being and the devastating impact of systemic racism.”

Nelson said when Moloney became chaplain he signed an agreement with MIT acknowledging that “actions or statements that diminish the value of individuals or groups of people are prohibited.”

“Father Moloney’s e-mail clearly failed to live up to these expectations,” Nelson said.

MIT, like many other universities, is grappling with how to address unrest among students about racial inequity on campus.

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By Tuesday, nearly 2,800 students, faculty, alumni, and staff had signed a petition asking the university to confront racial bias and make the institution inclusive and safe for all students. The petition said that the university has yet to follow through on recommendations presented by the Black Student Union and the Black Graduate Student Association in 2015 to deal with concerns brought up then.


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.