Support Catholic bishops’ decision
Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Dear Editors, regarding the decision of the Catholic bishops to remove their pastoral conference away from the Notre Dame campus to avoid association with “The Vagina Monologues,” you recently wrote “Notre Dame can be Catholic and still host ‘The Vagina Monologues’ (“Relocation a bad idea,” Feb. 15).” That begs the question of what it means to be a Catholic university, and leaves aside the question of whether hosting the event is in Notre Dame’s best interest. Holding this production on campus is detrimental on at least three levels.
First, your editorial referred to the “complex dynamic” and “creative tension” between Catholic morality and academic freedom. You are correct that there should be give and take between the two. However, they cannot co-exist amorphously. In the real world, decisions have to be made and lines have to be drawn somewhere. University President Father John Jenkins attempted to do so in a way that would accommodate both sides by not banning the “Monologues,” but placing it in a classroom setting conducive to an academic discussion rather than a circus atmosphere. However, that was akin to trying to place the genie back in the bottle, because it failed to address the need for a standard and core principles that apply both now and in the future.
Second, Jenkins’ solution seems to have unfortunately overlooked the broader issue of the far-reaching impact of hosting “The Vagina Monologues” at Notre Dame. “The Vagina Monologues” is not simply a textual program that can be a basis for discussion; it is like a street theater with a social or political agenda that is aimed at the general public. One of its stated goals is to have its messages woven into the fabric of public consciousness. Through acceptance at Notre Dame, it succeeds in doing exactly that. As the primary symbol of Catholic achievement, culture and academic success in the United States, Notre Dame has a vast moral constituency around the world which it necessarily affects. By hosting “The Vagina Monologues,” Notre Dame, perhaps unwittingly, is helping Eve Ensler advance her secularist, materialist, anti-religious agenda globally.
Finally, and most importantly, accommodation without clear standards conflicts with Notre Dame’s most fundamental mission: the search for truth. “The Vagina Monologues” abjures the truth. An exercise in Orwellian doublespeak, it puts forth reductionism as expansive for women, espousing a singular focus on one’s pubic area as if it were the center of one’s mind and soul. Duplicity reigns throughout.
For example, how is the stated goal of decreasing violence toward women advanced by celebrating the alcohol-fed seduction and rape of a female minor by an older woman? Is that not an unfair use of power to control and dominate a susceptible person for one’s own pleasure? Most “Catholic” colleges have followed Jenkins’ lead in questioning the value of the play in examining current women’s issues, eventually concluding in favor of serious dialogue.
I am sad to say that on this issue, Notre Dame now finds itself increasingly isolated with a small number of mostly Jesuit universities. The Catholic Bishops, often criticized for failing to lead their flock on social moral issues, were correct to distance themselves from this morally deprived event. Jenkins would be wise to do the same.