In our letter of July 10, 2008, to Father Jenkins, we pointed out how this year’s student production of The Vagina Monologues failed to meet his requirement that the students in the audience receive an explanation from panelists of relevant Catholic moral doctrine, and we urged that accordingly he should not approve such performances in the future. Here, we summarize and supplement our letter.
Father Jenkins’s prior decision
Father Jenkins has not taken a benign view of the play. It contains, he has conceded, “graphic descriptions of homosexual, extra- marital, heterosexual, and autoerotic experiences” – including “depiction of seduction of a sixteen-year-old girl by an adult woman” – in “portrayals [that] stand apart from, and indeed in opposition to, the view that human sexuality finds its proper expression in the committed relationship of marriage.” “There is,” he said, “no hint of central elements of Catholic sexual morality.” (For the repellant but compelling evidence, see our our description of the play.)
While Father Jenkins initially declared that, because of his appraisal of the play, he thought it “problematical” whether he should approve its performance, he ultimately receded in the face of determined faculty opposition. But he did so only on condition that the play be “brought into dialogue with Catholic tradition through panels” following each performance. Through “serious and informed discussion” of the moral issues,” he declared, there could be “creative contextualization” of the play and a “constructive and fruitful dialogue with the Catholic tradition” in an “academic setting.”
As we reported in our letter, this rationale was completely undermined during this year’s three performances by the emptying of the auditorium when the play ended and the panel discussions were about to begin. With some 80% of the students – 900 or so – shunning the discussions, any “dialogue with Catholic tradition” took place in a largely empty 450-person auditorium.
This alone should end the matter. But there is a good deal more, as we explain in detail in our letter. For example, the divided views of the panelists conveyed the impression that the teachings of the Church on these fundamental moral issues had an uncertain hold in the Notre Dame and St. Mary’s faculties; and audience participation at times included immoderate assaults on positions of the Church and the Bishop that robbed the discussion of standing as an academic event.
In sum, the notion that this sort of staging could transform a largely pornographic performance into some sort of “creative contextualization” that would illuminate Catholic tradition for the students has proved utterly fanciful. In these circumstances, Father Jenkins can be true to the terms he has set only by ending this play’s long run.
The Pope’s Address
There has been another relevant recent development that we discussed briefly in our last newsletter, the Pope’s address to Catholic educators.
Since the performances have been justified in terms of academic freedom, and since as we note in our letter two of the panelists reportedly cast doubt on the Church’s teaching respecting lesbian and homosexual sex, it is useful to consider what the Pope said about academic freedom:
I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission: a mission at the heart of the Church’s ‘munus docendi’ and not somehow autonomous or independent of it [emphasis supplied].
But there is an even more fundamental principle at the center of the Pope’s address. “Catholic identity,” the Pope declared, “demands and inspires…that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.”
It is preposterous, to put it conservatively, to view these performances of this meretricious play as reverberating with “the ecclesial life of faith.” They reverberated, rather, with a quite different, and quite malign, culture.
To any who think that the Pope’s declaration does not indict Notre Dame’s embrace of The Vagina Monologues, George Weigel has proposed a simple test. He writes:
Whether or not to produce Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” – a “play” that mocks the settled teaching of the Catholic Church – has become a tedious annual ritual on many Catholic campuses. Prominent among them is Notre Dame: to the public mind, the flagship among U.S. Catholic institutions of higher education. There, the university’s president, Father John Jenkins, CSC, has allowed Ensler’s ‘play’ on campus, acquiescing to the demands of some Notre Dame faculty while rejecting the counsel of other distinguished faculty members and the arguments of the local bishop….So here’s my proposal and my test-case: Let Father Jenkins send Pope Benedict XVI a copy of Ensler’s ‘play,’ asking the Pope whether he considers this material appropriate for production or useful for discussion on a Catholic campus. The answer, I predict, will not please the spin machine.
If this past year’s experience does not bring this annual celebration of wanton sex to an end, it is hard to imagine what will. It is time to add your names to our petition if you have not done so, and it is not too early to write Father Jenkins yourselves to urge that Notre Dame relinquish the leadership of the small and shrinking band of Catholic institutions still hosting this pernicious play.