Bishop John M. D'Arcy Regrets Notre Dame Sponsorship
Once again, many Catholic universities and institutions of higher learning are allowing the presentation of something called “The Vagina Monologues.” Alas, our beloved Notre Dame is presenting it for the fifth successive year under the sponsorship of two academic departments.
The bishop is the teacher in his diocese and has the serious responsibility of bringing the light of the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of the church to bear on the moral issues of the time. This obligation takes on a special seriousness when the souls of the young are in danger of being drawn into a state of moral confusion.
What is wrong with the text of this play? It distorts the beautiful gift of human sexuality, clouding its richness so it becomes merely the seeking of pleasure. Sexuality in the Catholic tradition is always related to the gift of self to another. “Sexuality is an enrichment of the whole person — body, emotions and soul — and it manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love.” — “Familiaris Consortio,” Pope John Paul II
In contrast, 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. How opposite from our tradition which says, “A woman’s dignity is closely connected with the love which she receives by the very reason of her femininity. It is likewise connected with the love she gives in return.” — “On the Dignity of Women,” Pope John Paul II.
While some will find it hard to believe, it is true that this play depicts in an approving way a sexual relationship between an adult woman and an adolescent girl, a minor. Such an action, which is a crime in both civil and church law, is also considered a serious sin in Christian moral teaching. The play also contains explicit depictions of masturbation and lesbian sex, portrayed in a positive light.
In this first encyclical letter, Pope Benedict XVI, theologian and pastor, speaks to this cultural phenomenon with striking clarity.
“Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex,’ has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great ‘yes’ to the body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility.” — “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict XVI, Dec. 25, 2005.
The question of freedom
The Book of Genesis contains the biblical account of the origin of humanity and informs us about the centrality of freedom as a gift of God who has created us in his image. Freedom in the Catholic tradition has never been 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. The opposite understanding of freedom would say that each person determines what is good or evil. This kind of subjectivity is in total opposition to the Scriptures. We receive our understanding of what is good and what is evil from God through the Commandments given to Moses, from the Scriptures, from the teachings of the church and the law written in our hearts, identified by St. Paul and the long tradition of church teaching. Pope John Paul II succinctly expressed this truth rooted in sacred Scriptures and tradition when he observed, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” Oct. 8, 1995, Baltimore, Maryland
Academic and artistic freedom
Pope John Paul II has made clear that a Catholic university “guarantees its members academic freedom so long as the rights of the individual person and the community are preserved within the confines of the truth and the common good.”
— “Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”
Here, Pope John Paul II, a longtime professor in a Catholic university, explains 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.
“Art has a right and a duty, for the sake of realism, to reproduce the human body, and the love of man and woman, as they are in reality, to speak the whole truth about them. The human body is an authentic part of the truth about man, just as its sensual and sexual aspects are an authentic part of the truth about human love. But it would be wrong to let this part obscure the whole — and this is what often happens in art ... Pornography is a marked tendency to accentuate the sexual element when reproducing the human body or human love in a work of art, with the object of inducing the reader or viewer to believe that sexual values are the only real values of the person, and that love is nothing more than the experience, individual or shared, of those values alone.” — “Love and Responsibility,” Karol Wojtyla
Such an analysis brings clarity. The play, which is being sponsored, does not portray the whole truth about human sexuality; and by this separation, it violates the truth about the body, the truth about the gift of sexuality, the truth about love, and the truth about man and woman.
As the president of Providence College recently wrote when he explained his reasons for banning the play, “Any institution which sanctioned works of art that undermined its deepest value would be inauthentic, irresponsible and ultimately self-destructive.”
— Letter to the Community of Providence College, Brian Shanley, OP, Ph.D.
As Notre Dame, with our prayers, weighs its response to this question, the common good of the university and of the wider community, as well, should be considered.
A new development
For 21 years as bishop of this diocese, I have entered into respectful dialogue with three presidents of Notre Dame. In that spirit, I have spoken to Father John Jenkins, CSC, on the matter at hand, always keeping in mind the instruction given to bishops and university presidents in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae”, which urges that there should be “close personal and pastoral relationships between university and church authorities, characterized by mutual trust and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue.”
Father Jenkins, in an act of leadership, has chosen to go before the Notre Dame community to make a serious presentation on this matter. Those of us who are outside the governance of the university should view this decision with respect.
A final word
In preparing these remarks, I have consulted others, including women who are graduates of Notre Dame. One is the mother of seven children; along with her husband, she has worked with me for 20 years to promote the pastoral care of the family. Together, they have prepared hundreds of couples for marriage. She shared with me these comments.
“I have been reflecting since we spoke the other night on the fact that there is an enormous difference between exposing evil and endorsing it, and a Catholic university should be in the business of the former, not the latter. In order to expose evil, it is necessary to examine it, to analyze it, to explore its assumptions and arguments so as to be better able to refute them and to explain to others how and why they fall short of what our human dignity demands. A Catholic university should bring faith and reason, as well as human experience and reflection to bear on the issues raised by the monologues, so as to respond to them in a way that safeguards and promotes the dignity of the human person. The monologues have become, in fact, a cultural phenomenon, and a Catholic university could have a fine contribution to make in analyzing why that has happened, what the appeal of the play is, and why the answer to the desecration of women that sexual abuse and violence constitute cannot be the perhaps less obvious but more insidious desecration of women that many of the monologues depict.” — Lisa Everett, in a letter to Bishop D’Arcy, Feb. 1, 2006.
I am always impressed when I visit the Grotto of Our Lady at Notre Dame by the many students, who pause there in prayer. Let us all turn to Mary, the patroness of Notre Dame and of our diocese, asking her to help Father Jenkins and her university through this difficult and historic moment, towards the light that is Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
I regret the sponsorship of this play by Notre Dame again this year, and pray it will be the last time.
See Jeff Mirus’ commentary, The Monologues Revisited: Bishop D'Arcy and Notre Dame.
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