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ACLU: Deal reached in case against Pa. nude 'pope'


June 10. 2013 2:36PM
Associated Press

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(AP) A deal has been reached in an indecent exposure case against a Carnegie Mellon University student who tossed condoms to spectators while parading nude from the waist down while dressed as the pope in April, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Monday.


Under the deal, Katherine O'Connor, 19, of Pittsburgh would have to perform 80 hours of community service by Oct. 21. If she does, the charge will be dismissed by a city magistrate, the ACLU says.


University police charged O'Connor last month after Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh complained privately to school officials, then publicly expressed concerns that O'Connor's performance was intolerant of Catholicism. Zubik was particularly upset because O'Connor had shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a cross


"Dialogue, disagreements and even demonstrations must be conducted in an atmosphere of decency," Zubik said after the charge was filed last month. "I hope that all of us including the students involved can learn and grow from this very important lesson."


Zubik and a diocesan spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the legal deal reached at a preliminary hearing Monday. Mike Manko, a spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, said the office has no comment.


University president Jared Cohon had previously apologized, saying the school encouraged artistic expression while acknowledging that public nudity is illegal.


Days after that apology, CMU police charged O'Connor and another student, Robb Godshaw, 22, of Wilmette, Ill., both with indecent exposure.


Like O'Connor, Godshaw participated in a parade sponsored by CMU's College of Fine Arts known as the "Annual Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby." The parade lampoons another event in which students push homemade vehicles and encourages performance art. Godshaw was dressed as an astronaut walking on a moon-like wheel before he took off his clothes, prompting the charge against him.


The ACLU said it was important that criminal charges be dismissed against both students because they could have been listed as sex offenders in some states had they been convicted.


Like O'Connor, Godshaw's charge will be dismissed if he completes the community service before both students again appear before a Pittsburgh magistrate in October.


The ACLU said in a news release that O'Connor isn't commenting until the charges are formally withdrawn, though her attorney, Jon Pushinsky, called the pending agreement to dismiss the charges "a great result" for all parties involved.


Godshaw's attorney, Emily McNally, didn't immediately return a call for comment.


Witold "Vic" Walczak, the ACLU's legal director in Pennsylvania, said O'Connor's performance was vetted by her academic adviser and said spectators were warned to cover their eyes if they objected to nudity at the parade.


"It would be unfair for one arm of the university to approve her performance and a different arm to charge her for doing what was approved," Walczak said in a statement. "If the university wants to set limits for the art show, they can do that, but the students need to be told what those limits are."


Associated Press


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