Education
CMU pope art student. Photo: KDKA screenshot CMU pope art student. Photo: KDKA screenshot  

Getting away with it: charges dropped against Carnegie Mellon’s naked pope

A Carnegie Mellon University student who paraded in a pope costume and was naked from the waist down has cut a deal with prosecutors, reports CBS Pittsburgh.

Instead of facing misdemeanor indecent exposure charges and possible sex offender registration, Katherine O’Connor will perform 80 hours of community service at her leisure this summer.

The incident occurred on April 18. O’Connor was participating in an event stage by fine arts students on the CMU campus called the “Annual Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby.”

The 19-year-old art student dressed as a caricature of the pope from the waist up and naked from the waist down. In a vulgar touch, she also shaved her pubic hair into the shape of a cross. She chucked condoms to spectators. She was also taking exaggerated drags on a cigarette.

O’Connor’s alleged artistic ambition was to expose the Roman Catholic Church’s child sex-abuse scandal, which rocked American Catholicism roughly a decade ago.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, O’Connor’s adviser at Carnegie Mellon approved the stunt. Also, onlookers were — somehow — informed that it might be a good idea not to watch O’Connor.

Bishop David A. Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh complained to Carnegie Mellon after the parade.

School officials responded by saying that CMU would defend the right to freedom of expression, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. At the same time, campus police filed misdemeanor charges against O’Connor and another art student, Robb S. Godshaw, for indecent exposure.

Godshaw managed to dress as a nude astronaut. He also got the same deal from prosecutors.

Jon Pushinsky, an ACLU attorney who represented O’Connor, called the deal “a great result,” reports the Post-Gazette.

“I’m pleased that they are not going to face the risk of having a conviction at their young age for doing something that they believed was going to be permitted by the program that was operated by CMU,” Pushinsky added.

“My client was facing a serious charge and if she’d gone to trial and been convicted, there are certain legal ramifications that she may have some long-term implications,” the ACLU lawyer told CBS Pittsburgh. “She avoids all of that now and all of the charges will be withdrawn. She’ll have no record whatsoever.”

The Post-Gazette notes that O’Connor lists herself on her Facebook page as a graduate of the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, a Catholic high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The women’s prep school calls itself committed to “responsible living” and says it inspires students “to live the prophetic nature of the gospel.”

O’Connor and Godshaw have 120 days to complete their 80 hours each of community service. They can choose their own community service options.

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