The Vagina Monologues On Catholic Campuses
Only a small and shrinking number of Catholic schools shared Father Jenkins’s expansive view of academic freedom
This play is offensive, questionable in its portrayal of violence, and not in keeping with the respect accorded the human body in this institution’s religious tradition. (David Tyson, C.S.C.)
The number of Catholic colleges hosting The Vagina Monologues — always but a handful — has steadily declined over the past several years in the face of protests, due in large measure to the work of The Cardinal Newman Society. In 2006, the play was produced at only 22 Catholic institutions out of a total of 230 and that was down to about ten in 2014. We reproduce below some statements of Catholic presidents for comparison with Father Jenkins’s
It is noteworthy that in 2003 Rev. David Tyson, C.S.C., then the President of the University of Portland and later the Superior of the Indiana Province of the C,S,C,, denied permission for performance of the play, declaring, “In conscience, I cannot approve of its performance on campus.” “This play,” he said, “is offensive, questionable in its portrayal of violence, and not in keeping with the respect accorded the human body in this institution’s religious tradition.”
Presidents of other Catholic universities have expressed views just as firm. The Very Rev. David O’Connell, CM, the then President of Catholic University, said:
I find the play crude, ugly, vulgar and unworthy of staging or performing at CUA in any manner whatsoever. I believe that CUA, its excellent Drama department, and the cause of promoting the dignity of women deserve much better than this play and can find much better expression than this play presents. In addition to the affront and offense posed to Catholic teachings and values by some aspects of the play, it has become a symbol each year of the desire of some folks to push Catholic campuses over the edge of good and decent judgment. Sooner or later, someone has got to simply say ‘enough.’ I am saying ‘enough’ and I’ll take whatever criticism is hurled my way as a badge of honor for CUA, its mission, its values and all that it represents. I took this position last year, this year and I’ll take it again next year and every year I am here.
Similarly, The Rev. Brian Shanley, O.P., then President of Providence College, explained that he had read the play and found it “not appropriate for a school with our mission.” He continued:
First, far from celebrating the complexity and mystery of female sexuality, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ simplifies and demystifies it by reducing it to the vagina…. Second, the description of the play as a ‘new bible’ is an indication that its depiction of female sexuality is meant to displace the traditional Biblical view that inspires the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church…. [A]rtistic freedom on a Catholic campus cannot mean the complete license to perform or display any work of art regardless of its intellectual or moral content. Any institution which sanctioned works of art that undermined its deepest values would be inauthentic, irresponsible and ultimately self-destructive.