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Open letter to Father Jenkins

Letter to the Editor | Friday, February 10, 2006

“For as of late there has been an active campaign, carried on in the name of the social function of propaganda for special views which are dogmatically asserted to be socially necessary.”

John Dewey, Freedom and Culture, 1939

Dear Father John Jenkins,

In the weeks since your speech on Academic Freedom and Catholic Culture, the campus has been embroiled in debate. Many have offered eloquent and passionate arguments in support of events such as the Queer Film Festival and “The Vagina Monologues.” I have been impressed by their articulate responses in The Observer, in dorm discussions and personal talks with friends. I have even started to come to an understanding of what they are arguing against.

I don’t think even they entirely understand, however, what it is they’re arguing for.

You see, nobody is arguing that Notre Dame must sponsor every academic event, conference or performance that comes its way. I also have not heard anyone argue that “The Vagina Monologues,” for example, are not egregiously opposed to Catholic teachings.

What I have heard are many arguments that such events are irreplaceable. Again, using “The Vagina Monologues” as an example, supporters have argued that performances help heal women, educate the campus about women’s issues and stop domestic abuse.

By claiming that “The Vagina Monologues” are the only vehicles through which such healing can take place, its supporters are demanding that Notre Dame take a position which has clear theological implications. Let me sketch out the ramifications of their argument as follows:

1) Assuming that the Vagina Monologues are indeed egregiously opposed to Catholic teachings, 2) and accepting its supporters‚ position that no comparable production, which would include the Catholic perspective, could accomplish the same goals, 3) it follows that Catholic teachings must be ignored for the said goals to be fulfilled. 4) If Catholic teachings must be ignored, this must mean that Catholic beliefs about sexuality are not only insufficient (in which case a performance which united both secular and Catholic viewpoints would suffice), but completely wrong. 5) If the University agrees that “The Vagina Monologues” do indeed have an irreplaceable impact on campus, and therefore allow them to be performed, the implication is that the University believes statement 4 is true.

Can the supporters of “The Vagina Monologues” really ask Notre Dame to make this statement and in doing so, contradict our Catholic identity? Knowingly or not, that is what they are doing. The supporters must either agree that “The Vagina Monologues” could be amended so as not to completely oppose Catholic teaching, or acknowledge that in supporting this performance, Notre Dame would be denying part of its Catholic identity by denying part of the Church’s claim to truth.

The same logical proposition holds true for all similar events. Notre Dame could conceivably sponsor an event which was non-Catholic, but any production which is specifically anti-Catholic and refuses to address relevant Catholic perspectives leads to the same conundrum as “The Vagina Monologues.”

I am not encouraging Notre Dame to withdraw from the secular world. Rather, as a leading Catholic University, we need to engage it. But if we – with our immense intellectual, financial and spiritual resources conform with modern culture to the extent that we begin to believe that only through anti-Catholic measures can certain topics be addressed, I fear we will have settled for a position which will end up nullifying our great Catholic intellectual heritage.

Jessica NelsonsophomoreBreen-PhillipsFeb. 9