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Monologues’ raise questions for Church, at ND

Marcela Berrios | Monday, February 11, 2008

A two-day seminar for bishops hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the University will start today at a convent in Mishawaka, instead of Notre Dame, because organizers wanted to avoid connections to the likely presentation of “The Vagina Monologues” in March.

“Many bishops have objections in principle to the performance of this play on Catholic campuses and felt that, as teachers of the faith, they could give the impression that they endorsed this play by their presence on campus, knowing it was likely to be performed,” theology department chair John Cavadini, one of the seminar’s main organizers, said Sunday.

Among those bishops is Father John D’Arcy, bishop of the Catholic diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who has made annual statements against the “Monologues” and the play’s presence at Notre Dame. The play, which has been performed on campus six of the past seven years, “reduces sexuality to a particular organ of a woman’s body separate from the person of the woman, from her soul and her spirit,” D’Arcy said in 2006.

After some of the bishops found out from the University the “Monologues” was likely to be performed on campus in March, there was some “give and take” between the seminar’s organizers and members of the administration, Cavadini said. But the bishops did not attempt to force or pressure the University or any member of the Notre Dame community to change their minds about the play, he said.

“Those organizing this conference, myself included, decided that the best way to honor the good faith objections of many of the bishops, without interfering with decisions about how to run the University, was simply to move the conference off campus,” Cavadini said.

Assistant Vice President for News and Information Dennis Brown said in a statement Friday that the University understood and respected the bishops’ concerns.

“We understand that not all are in full agreement about the propriety of allowing performances of this play on a Catholic campus,” he said.

According to Brown, the University worked “collaboratively” with the bishops to move the seminar off campus out of respect for everyone involved.

The seminar – entitled “The Eloquence of Teaching” and hosted by the USCCB’S Committee on Doctrine and the University’s Institute for Church Life – is specifically geared toward docent bishops and is thus not open to the public. Therefore, the decision to move the seminar off campus was also not meant to become a highly publicized one, Cavadini said.

“This move, like the whole conference, was not intended to be a public statement and neither the Committee on Doctrine nor anyone else involved had issued a public statement about it. And this out of respect for the University,” he said.

Cavadini, who is a consultant to the Committee on Doctrine, stressed that the bishops’ actions were not meant to be a public form of protest against the University’s decision to conditionally allow the “Monologues.”

“This is not a public ‘protest,'” Cavadini said. “How could it be, since the original event was not even public?”

The first public statement regarding the seminar and the bishops’ stance on the “Monologues” came from D’Arcy on Thursday, in response to articles published in The Irish Rover and The South Bend Tribune.

D’Arcy told The Observer on Friday that he and University President Father John Jenkins “have been communicating on the matter of the presentation of this play since before Christmas, first through a personal visit and more recently through correspondence and telephone.”

D’Arcy said he knows a final decision has not been made as to whether the play will be performed on campus in March.

“But Father Jenkins is aware that if the decision is made to perform the play, I will make a statement, as I have done each year when Notre Dame has sponsored this play,” D’Arcy said.

But the director of communications for the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, Vince LaBarbera, made it clear that D’Arcy “can only speak for himself as to his concerns about this play” and that the bishop intends to maintain a strong relationship with Jenkins.

Brown similarly said that the relations between the University and the USCCB had not been damaged by the disagreement over the “Monologues.”

“Notre Dame and the U.S. bishops have worked together constructively in the past, they are working together on this current meeting and we are sure that our partnerships will continue in the future,” he said.

After initiating a 10-week-long campus-wide discussion about academic freedom and Catholic character, Jenkins announced in 2006 he would not ban the sexually explicit play if it were performed for strictly academic – and not fundraising – purposes. Organizers also had to seek sponsorship from academic departments, conduct the performance in an academic setting and include multiple viewpoints on the subject matter.

The bishops’ seminar will take place at the convent of the Sisters of St. Francis in Mishawaka until Wednesday. Speakers include Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the post held by Pope Benedict XVI before his election to the papacy. Most of the speakers are Notre Dame theology professors.