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Notre Dame Ignores Bishop’s Appeal

In despite of the indignation expressed by many, Notre Dame allowed ‘The Vagina Monologues’ to be performed in campus during Holy Week.
by Catholic.net Staff Writer | Source:
This decision reportedly forced some 50 bishops to move their conference off campus. The university’s President, Reverend John Jenkins, CSC, issued a statement affirming that his decision "best serves the distinctive mission of Notre Dame."

However, Bishop John M. D'Arcy from the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese thinks differently and issued an open letter condemning the decision:

As bishop of this historic diocese, entrusted with the spiritual welfare of all those who live within its borders, including the students at our beloved Notre Dame, I believe that, once again, I must publicly and respectfully disagree with Father Jenkins’ decision. I am convinced that permitting performances of “The Vagina Monologues” is not consistent with the identity of a Catholic university and not comparable to the long accepted academic tradition through which a wide variety of authors are read and discussed in classes at Notre Dame and in all institutions of higher learning.

In the first place, the difference between the works of authors such as Nietzsche, Gibbon, Luther and Joyce, and “The Vagina Monologues” is a difference, not of degree, but of kind. The former have written serious philosophical, theological and literary works, which have influenced Western thought. As such, their work has academic merit and is worthy of serious discussion and critique in a classroom setting. Father Jenkins believes that Eve Ensler’s play was written to shock and offend. How can one put such a play, which many consider pornographic, on the level of serious works such as the writings of Gibbon and Luther?

Even if one could make a case that this play has academic merit, it could be read in class. When a book or play is read in class, the student expects it to be discussed and critiqued; indeed, this is an essential part of the classroom experience. This is not so when one attends the performance of a play. One generally goes to a play and leaves; staying afterwards to listen to a panel discussion about the play is not inherent in the activity of attending a play. No one who comes to the play is required to stay for the panel discussion, and Father Jenkins’ attempt to give the performances of this play an academic quality seems deficient.

In addition, unlike reading the play as a classroom assignment, the performances are themselves an endorsement of the international V-Day campaign, even if this is done without fundraising. Is this not the motivation of the departments that have asked to sponsor the play and the young women who will be acting in it? Did they not propose to have multiple performances of the play again this year because they believe it conveys an important message, and they want as many people to see it as possible? In short, people push to have this play performed year after year because they endorse the message it conveys, and they want to be part of the international campaign to promote this message. In allowing performances of the play on campus again this year, whether or not they are officially considered part of the V-Day campaign, Notre Dame continues to cooperate in advancing the campaign’s agenda, an agenda which, as I have repeatedly reflected in my several statements over the years, is directly opposed to the dignity of the human person and is antithetical to Catholic teaching.


Perhaps an analogy might illustrate how critical the context is when making decisions about what is appropriate to allow. Suppose that Notre Dame was a Catholic University in Nazi Germany in 1938, and a portion of the faculty and student body were Nazi sympathizers. Suppose further that there was a national movement to show a prominent Nazi propaganda film on college campuses. Would not the showing of such a film at Notre Dame involve the university in providing a platform for Nazi propaganda and entail some level of cooperation with the evil of Nazism? Would providing a panel in which the Catholic attitude towards Nazism was included as one among several viewpoints, in any way mitigate the evil involved in showing such a film? Would not the university bear moral responsibility for the fact that some students who viewed the film on campus might be persuaded by the propaganda and became Nazi supporters?

I chose this analogy because Father Jenkins, in our correspondence, made mention of a series of documentary films shown recently on campus concerning the early days of Nazism, which he believes would also have to be banned if “The Vagina Monologues” were banned. But there is an enormous difference between showing a Nazi propaganda film in 2008 and showing it in 1938. One is a matter of historic and scholarly interest in a long-past event, and the other constitutes active cooperation in promoting a current and threatening evil ideology.

I am convinced that, in the current cultural context, allowing performances of “The Vagina Monologues” at Notre Dame is analogous to the situation described above. The play is little more than a propaganda piece for the sexual revolution and secular feminism. While claiming to deplore violence against women, the play at the same time violates the standards of decency and morality that safeguard a woman’s dignity and protect her, body and soul, from sexual predators. The human community has generally refrained from exposing and discussing the hidden parts of a woman’s body, preferring to consider them private and even sacred. Most importantly, the sexual sin, which the play depicts in several scenes, desecrates women just as much as, if not more deeply than, sexual violence does. The play depicts, exalts, and endorses female masturbation, which is a sin. It depicts, exalts, and endorses a sexual relationship between an adult woman and a child, a minor, which is a sin and also a crime. It depicts and exalts the most base form of sexual relationship between a man and a woman. These illicit sexual actions are portrayed as paths to healing, and the implication is that the historic, positive understanding of heterosexual marriage as the norm is what we must recover from.

Father Jenkins has informed me that after each evening performance there will be a panel discussion, which will include someone who will give an informed and sympathetic presentation of Catholic teaching. In so doing, he notes that Notre Dame “has taken stronger steps than many other Catholic institutions to put limits on the performance of this play.” While this may well be true, there are a growing number of Catholic institutions of higher learning that have permanently banned the play.

Click here to read Bishop D'Arcy’s full statement.

Notre Dame was contacted by Catholic.net but declined comments.

Father David O'Connell, President of The Catholic University of America, stated that “the play is unworthy of staging at CUA. In addition to the affront and offense posed to Catholic teachings and values 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. Sooner or later, someone has got to simply say 'enough.'"

The President of the Project Sycamore, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Catholic identity in Notre Dame, William Dempsey, believes that there is “an alarming disjuncture between University and Church, together with the secularization of the faculty that is the heart of the problem, underscores the need to gather together all concerned members of the Notre Dame family. We strongly urge that those who share our views redouble their efforts to tell others what is happening and how they can help by joining our mailing list and our petition. And we urge also that those of you who are able to contribute financial support do so. The greater our resources, the more effective we will be in reaching the countless alumni and others of the Notre Dame family who do not realize that Notre Dame's Catholic identity is seriously at risk.”

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