Amid outcry, black mass at Harvard is called off
Temple spokesman says scaled-down version held
A reenactment of satanic rituals known as a “black mass” that had been scheduled for Monday evening on the Harvard campus was abruptly canceled amid a chorus of condemnation from Catholic groups and university officials and students.
However, a scaled-down version of the event, without the original sponsorship of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, was apparently held late Monday by members of the New York-based Satanic Temple off campus, at the Hong Kong lounge in Harvard Square.
Lucien Greaves, a temple spokesman, said in an e-mail at 10:35 p.m. that the mass was “happening now” at the Hong Kong. He did not say how many people were participating or provide specifics on what was happening.
A lounge employee, who would only identify himself as Fred, said in a phone interview that temple members were drinking at the bar, but he did not believe they were performing any rituals.
“I haven’t heard any complaining,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, Greaves told the Globe that the mass was canceled because organizers no longer had a venue.
“Everyone involved, outside of the Satanic Temple, got really scared,” Greaves said. “And I don’t necessarily blame them, because I understand that they were getting a lot of vitriolic hate mail, and I don’t think they expected it.”
Earlier Monday, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club had decided to move the mass off campus.
“The Harvard Extension School is grateful the student group has recognized the strong concerns expressed by members of the Harvard community and beyond,” Robert Neugeboren, dean of students and alumni affairs at the extension school, said after the decision was ade to find a new location.
In a statement later Monday evening, the cultural studies club said it was no longer sponsoring the mass after plans to hold it at the Middle East club in Central Square in Cambridge fell through.
The cultural studies club did not respond to an inquiry asking why it had decided to move the mass.
“The Satanic Temple has informed us that they will stage their own black mass ceremony at an undisclosed private location to ‘reaffirm their respect for the Satanic faith and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is to shame those who marginalize others by letting their own words and actions speak for themselves,’ ” the studies club said.
The initial plan to hold a black mass on the Harvard campus prompted widespread outrage.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston held a eucharistic procession that began at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology chapel in Cambridge Monday evening, followed by a holy hour at St. Paul Church in Harvard Square.
Jon Swedberg, 64, of Taunton and a marcher in the procession, said he was strongly opposed to the black mass and that he wanted to “pray to the Blessed Father on behalf of what’s happening.”
“I find [the black mass] offensive as a Catholic,” he said. “I find it goes directly against the faith of my church, the faith of the church of my choice.”
Hundreds of marchers proceeded from MIT to St. Paul Church for the holy hour, clutching rosary beads, crosses, and pictures of Jesus.
More than 1,500 people packed the church for the holy hour, including Drew Faust, Harvard president.
“Tonight, my friends, we gather in this moment of prayer, as a parish, a university community, to celebrate the greatest gift that God has ever extended to us, His son Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Michael E. Drea, who led the holy hour prayers.
He said people of faith “all recognize the message of the Satanic black mass, they recognize it for what it is: an act of hatred . . . for the Catholic church.”
Dani Mellen, 25, of Jamaica Plain, sat across the street from the church and said that she had wanted to attend the black mass. She said that she is not a satanist, but was curious to see how the black mass worked.
“I understand it was supposed to be a reenactment of what a satanic mass would have been,” she said. “I’m not totally sure, because I’ve never attended one, but I was excited to because I have a thirst for knowledge.”
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and Faust had been at odds over the university’s initial decision to allow the reenactment on campus.
O’Malley said the event was disturbing. The satanic ritual is believed by critics to mock the Roman Catholic religion.
“Why people would want to do something that is so offensive to so many people in the community, whether they’re Catholic or not, it’s very repugnant,” O’Malley said in an interview with the Globe.
In a statement released earlier Monday, Faust said the performance would be allowed on campus.
She called the student group’s sponsorship of the black mass “abhorrent,” but said she must protect the group’s right to free speech.
“Vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge, and we must uphold these values even in the face of controversy,” Faust said.
Nearly 60,000 students, alumni, and faculty members signed a petition against holding the services on campus, according to a statement released by Harvard Rhodes scholar Aurora Griffin.
“I am ashamed that my university is allowing such a hateful event to happen under the auspices of ‘education,’ ” said Griffin, a former president of the Harvard Catholic Student Association.
The Harvard Extension club has continuously urged critics to widen their understanding of satanic worship. In an interview via e-mail Friday, an unidentified spokesperson said the event was meant to be educational, not offensive.
The spokesperson asserted that many satanists are animal rights activists, vegetarians, and artists with a strong sense of community.
Laura Crimaldi of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondent Jacqueline Tempera contributed to this report.