Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated an April 14 Mass for George Washington University students, joining the campus's Catholic community in supporting the chaplain there who has been criticized for his adherence to Catholic teaching about homosexuality.

"I want to offer a word of support and encouragement to your chaplain, Father Greg Shaffer," Cardinal Wuerl said. "All of us have come here this evening for two purposes: to celebrate Mass and to stand in solidarity with a wonderful priest."

Two homosexual students at the university have sought to have Father Shaffer removed from the school's Catholic Newman Center, complaining that the priest's adherence to Church teaching on homosexual behavior is discriminatory.

The Catholic Church teaches that same-sex attraction in and of itself is not sinful, but homosexual activity is. The Church teaches that sexual activity outside of sacramental marriage or that is closed to the gift of life is sinful.

According to the GW Hatchet, a student newspaper at the university, the two students are petitioning the university to have Father Shaffer ousted from his post, investigate alleged discrimination against homosexual students, withhold funding for the Newman Center and to vet religious leaders who minister to students.

Father Shaffer, a native of Bethesda and a graduate of Gonzaga College High School, was ordained in 2006 and has served as chaplain to Catholic students at George Washington University since 2009.

Attendees at the Mass showed their support for Father Shaffer with a sustained and prolonged standing ovation.

"Words cannot express my gratitude," Father Shaffer said.

Cardinal Wuerl, in his homily, noted that, "Not all who hear the words of Jesus, not all who hear the words of the Church, not all who hear the words of the Gospel, the Word of God, choose to follow."

"With respect to those who do not choose to follow, we do not impose those words of the Church on anyone," Cardinal Wuerl said. "We propose the ways of the kingdom of God in terms that the world can understand and examine, in terms they may freely accept or reject. "

About 350 George Washington University students and others attended the Mass that was offered at St. Stephen Martyr Church in Northwest Washington. Concelebrants of the Mass included Father Shaffer, Msgr. Paul Dudziak, pastor of the parish; and Father William Gurnee and Msgr. Robert Panke, both former chaplains to GWU Catholic students.

"Priests, your chaplain, pastors all over this diocese, bishops all around the world are trying to be faithful" to Gospel teaching, Cardinal Wuerl said. "This is who they are - preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They cannot change our Lord's message. They pass on the Good News."

Cardinal Wuerl, in his homily, noted that when Jesus preached and some rejected what He had to say, "Jesus did not respond by changing the teaching. "

"Jesus did not say, 'Oh, then, I will change my teaching,'" Cardinal Wuerl said. "Jesus continued to be a countercultural voice. Jesus did not change His teaching - indeed He could not change His teaching because what He teaches is truth."

He added that "the Catholic Church welcomes everyone and tries to walk with them on life's journey while at the same time upholding a moral law by which we are all obliged to live."

"Never be ashamed of Christ, His Gospel, His Truth - or your identity as Jesus' disciples. Always be proud of who you are," Cardinal Wuerl said. "Thank you for standing up for the freedom to speak our faith and thank you for standing up for your chaplain."

Some students who attended the Mass told the Catholic Standard they chose to be there to show their support for "Father Greg," as the priest is sometimes affectionately referred. Students speaking to the Catholic Standard asked that they be identified by just their first names.

"Father Greg loves the people entrusted to his care, and he loves the teaching of the Catholic Church," said Nicholas. "What more could you want from a priest? He is a good man."

"I don't know why people who don't like what the Church teaches don't go and find a denomination they do like," said Rosalie. "I come here because I want to hear what the Church has to say."

For Gavin, the attempt to remove Father Shaffer "kind of really makes me mad."

"To get Father Greg fired because you don't want to believe what he has to say - where's the diversity and tolerance in that?" Gavin asked.

Support for Father Shaffer has been increasing since the effort to have him removed was made public.

Current and former students have offered words of support for Father Shaffer in a blog called "The Chaplain I Know." Also, more than 10,600 people have signed an on-line petition ( supporting Father Shaffer.