Catholic community members address Downhill Derby controversy

May 14, 2013
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Laughter is supposed to be the shortest distance between two people, at least according to Victor Borge. It is a great misfortune that this simple and powerful means of communion was flagrantly subverted at a recent Carnival event, whose title seemed to be a CMU-nym for "lighthearted." The Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby float that set out to mock both the pope as well as community standards of respect was calculated for exclusion of, among others, Catholics who actually think of their "pope" in familial terms.

Since Catholics on Carnegie Mellon's campus are made of hardy stock, we consider the architects of this float themselves more the victims of their own narrow and tasteless humor than we are; it differs only in degree from the sneering humor we have become perhaps too accustomed to over the years from a variety of sources. Still, we grieve the chance to conspire with them in laughter. Even had we ourselves been the object of ridicule, it would have been fun, since "angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." The unmistakable contempt underlying this float both for our faith and its figures means we cannot, we were meant not to, share in the laughter: a pity, but not the end of the world. It does not entail — to us — any sort of administrative punishment of the students, faculty, or staff involved. Communion is not fostered by coerced censorship — nor do we Catholic students, staff, or faculty hold any grudges, if the cross is not to be emptied of its meaning.

Instead, we pray that the good name of this great university will not be diminished by the thoughtless, heedless actions of a few; that prospective Catholic students will not read either these actions or the lack of much community response as a sign that either they or their faith will not be welcome here; and that these actions will not become precedent for similar mockery to be endured here by members of other faith communities. We will smile, though, at the reality of mercy, which is the cause of both laughter and joy.