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The Monologues Revisited: Bishop D'Arcy and Notre Dame

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 25, 2006

In this space in February, I drew attention to the outstanding statement by Fr. Brian Shanley, OP, President of Providence College, in which he announced his decision to prohibit the production of The Vagina Monologues on campus. At the same time as Fr. Shanley was wrestling with his decision, the President of Notre Dame, Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, faced the same dilemma. He even addressed the entire academic community on the question of Notre Dame’s sponsorship of the Monologues.

Unfortunately, far from banning the Monologues at Notre Dame, Fr. Jenkins ultimately decided even against withdrawing University sponsorship from the play. Thus, the play was performed again for the sixth year in a row, under the sponsorship of two academic departments. This decision was made despite urgings to the contrary by the local ordinary, Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

In a statement on April 5th, Bishop D’Arcy announced:

As pastor of the diocese with the sacred responsibility for the care of souls of all our people, including the young men and women at the University of Notre Dame, and with pastoral concern always for the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, as is my obligation, I am deeply saddened by the decision of Father John Jenkins, CSC, to allow the continuing sponsorship of The Vagina Monologues by Notre Dame, the school of Our Lady.

Bishop D’Arcy also referred to his earlier statement of February 12th in which he had outlined his reasons for opposition to the play, and his efforts to persuade Fr. Jenkins that the University should cease its sponsorship. Bishop D’Arcy's statement included well-chosen citations from both John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the issues of academic freedom and human sexuality. He rightly noted that freedom is not to be understood as the right to do whatever one desires: “Freedom in the Catholic tradition is seen as the capacity to know the good and having the strength to do it.” He also clearly noted that the Monologues foster exactly the kind of sexual attitudes which Benedict XVI's first encyclical, Deus est Caritas, was written to correct.

In other words, Bishop D’Arcy was absolutely correct when he explained to Fr. Jenkins that “the play in question reduces sexuality to a particular organ of a woman’s body separate from the person of the woman, from her soul and her spirit. It alienates woman from man, whom God has entrusted to her as friend and companion. It separates sexuality and the human body from love.” He even cited Fr. Shanley’s exemplary decision at Providence College as an example of how things ought to be done. (See the complete text.)

What is remarkable about this case is that Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame were actually given clear, specific, authoritative and even public guidance, not only in Bishop D'Arcy's statement of February 2006, but in other statements over the previous two years. One is always tempted, after all, to blame the bishops. Not so in this case. The more shame, then, on Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame.

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