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Jenkins balances ‘Monologues,’ Catholicism

Staff Editorial | Friday, March 28, 2008

In 2006, University President Fr. John Jenkins outlined his criteria that must be met for “The Vagina Monologues” to be performed on campus. Academic freedom, he said, must be maintained regardless of how the material meshes with teachings of the Catholic Church. Allowing the play to be performed on campus is not the same as endorsing the content of the play. Jenkins, as the leader of a Catholic university, walked a fine line between the “Catholic” and “university” characteristics of Notre Dame and found a delicate balance between the two.

In a replay of two years ago, amid much debate on and off campus, Jenkins said the “Monologues” could be performed on campus as long as the performances had an academic panel to discuss the play and its relation to Catholic teaching afterwards.

Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy voiced his opposition to the play and Notre Dame’s allowance of the play on campus while alumni and concerned Catholics also protested the play. D’Arcy has been the most prominent critic of Jenkins’ decision and has issued multiple statements condemning the “Monologues” and their performance on campus. The play, he said, portrays ideals, such as homosexuality, extramarital sex and sexual relations between adults and children that contradict Church teaching. By allowing the performance, he said Jenkins tacitly endorsed it, as well as the values contained in it.

Jenkins said allowing the play on campus is equivalent to discussing a philosopher or a writer whose views do not align with the Catholic Church. D’Arcy said watching a play is not the same as discussing it in a classroom setting because people are not required to participate in discussion of the play and its relation to Catholic teaching as they would be in a classroom.

D’Arcy’s criticism is legitimate and well-articulated, but it misses the mark. The entire University is a classroom meant to enrich all areas of students’ lives and stimulate intellectual thought both inside and outside an actual classroom. Students at Notre Dame are smart enough to realize that allowing the “Monologues” on campus does not mean the University endorses its content and realize its allowance on campus is meant to inspire dialogue and debate.

Jenkins did not waiver in his decision to allow the “Monologues” to be performed on campus, which is a positive thing for the University. Were he to cave to external pressure, he would confuse people as to the direction in which he was leading Notre Dame. He would still receive criticism, but it would instead come from his faculty and student body, many of whom believe in academic freedom. He was going to catch flak no matter what decision he made; and by allowing the play this year, he reaffirmed the University’s commitment to academic freedom that will enable it to remain among the nation’s elite universities.