his own strong words denouncing the play in January, many Catholics
have responded with dismay to the decision of Notre Dame University
president, Rev. John Jenkins to allow the controversial ‘Vagina
Monologues’ to be performed at the school.
In a January 23rd address to university faculty, Fr. Jenkins said that the play contains “no hint of central elements of Catholic sexual morality,” but instead, “contains graphic descriptions of homosexual, extra-marital heterosexual, and auto-erotic experiences. There is even a depiction of the seduction of a sixteen year-old girl by an adult woman.”
He had stressed that the “portrayals stand apart from, and indeed in opposition to, the view that human sexuality finds its proper expression in the committed relationship of marriage between a man and a woman that is open to the gift of procreation.”
He even said that “the repeated performance of the play and the publicity surrounding it suggest that the university endorses certain themes in the play, or at least finds them compatible with its values.”
Despite this, on Wednesday, Fr. Jenkins surprised many by saying that he will now place “no restrictions” on the performance.
After hearing from hundreds of students, faculty and alumni over the last 10 weeks, Notre Dame’s president has now expressed his determination “that we not suppress speech on this campus.” “I am also determined”, he said, “that we never suppress or neglect the Gospel that inspired this university."
Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, said that "Either he has radically changed his perspective on 'The Vagina Monologues' or he is entirely ignoring the Catholic identity of Notre Dame. In either case, it smacks of hypocrisy when he made such strong statements weeks ago and is not imposing any restrictions at all now."
He added that his group believes that Fr. Jenkins’ “original instincts about ‘The Vagina Monologues’ were correct and sincere, but he fell into the trap that has paralyzed so many other Catholic colleges and universities in the United States—he has insisted on defining ‘The Vagina Monologues’…within the context of “academic freedom.”
“This” he said, “is a play, a piece of entertainment and one-sided advocacy. It is not an academic event; it does not in itself offer substantial information or reasoned argument that would contribute to a discussion of sexual morality or violence.”
Likewise, Bill Donahue, president of the New York based Catholic League said in an e-mail that Fr. Jenkins‘ "statement is a strained and ultimately failed attempt to reconcile free speech rights with the mission of a Catholic institution."
In a recent statement, South Bend’s Bishop John D’Arcy, appealed to the memory of the late John Paul II, a playwright himself and longtime professor in a Catholic university in his criticism of the performance.
The bishop recalled John Paul’s thinking “that freedom must always be linked to the truth and the common good. The same principles apply to artistic freedom. As a university professor, the future pope presented a series of lectures on human love and sexuality in which he reflected how artistic freedom must always be linked to the whole truth about human love and sexuality.”
He added: “I regret the sponsorship of this play by Notre Dame again this year, and pray it will be the last time.”
Very Rev. David O’Connell, president of Catholic University of America also recently spoke out against the performance at his own school saying, “I find the play crude, ugly, vulgar and unworthy of staging or performing at CUA in any manner whatsoever.”
He said that he believes the cause of “promoting the dignity of women deserves better than this play…” adding that “it has become a symbol each year of the desire of some folks to push Catholic campuses over the edge of good and decent judgment.”