academies of easy virtue

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 06, 2006

Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins has issued a statement regarding his decision to permit performances of the Vagina Monologues. Here's what I take to be the fulcrum of his argument:

For these reasons, I am very determined that we not suppress speech on this campus. I am also determined that we never suppress or neglect the Gospel that inspired this University. As long as the Gospel message and the Catholic intellectual tradition are appropriately represented, we can welcome any serious debate on any thoughtful position here at Notre Dame.

The only exception I can imagine would come in the case of expression that is overt and insistent in its contempt for the values and sensibilities of this University, or of any of the diverse groups that form part of our community. This sort of expression is not at issue in the current debate, nor do I expect it to be an issue in the future.

Here's what Jenkins didn't say, but I wish he had:

Look, cut the claptrap. I've been around enough universities to know a serious intellectual assertion when I see one. The Vagina Monologues stunt is anti-discursive agit-prop. Any "arguments" it pretends to propose are freely accessible to any literate student with a library card. There's no book-burning going on. But to capitulate to the agit-prop by allowing the performance is to weaken the university's already weak resistance to secular partisan pressure.

Claims to academic freedom and liberty of speech do not apply. I do not say that they don't have value, merely that they are irrelevant to this controversy. Those who seek to stage the VM are keen not to vindicate freedom of speech but to advance a Leftist political agenda in matters of sexual morality. Were freedom of speech at issue, the agitators would be calling not for Ms. Ensler's opus but for public lectures by the Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan and by -- what's his name? -- that crack-pot preacher from Kansas who always shows up at gay parades with the GOD HATES FAGS signs. Fred Phelps, that's the guy. Phelps and Enser are in every intellectual respect identical twins, though ideologically separated at birth, and anyone who suggests the contrary has, to put it charitably, been overly influenced by one or the other. If the faculty came to me and pleaded, "We need to hear Fred Phelps in order to justify our prestige as academics unafraid of repellent ideas!" I could respect their integrity. They would, moreover, demonstrate rare candor by acknowledging what opinions are least likely to find a hearing among their peers. But only a whore -- a whore terrified by the prospect of her patron's displeasure -- could state that the Vagina Monologues pose a serious challenge to conformism or fear. Regrettably, there is no shortage of harlotry at play in this controversy.

Suppose a group of ND students took it into their minds that their Second Amendment rights needed vindication; after all, no one can deny that these rights are severely abridged on our campus. Imagine that, in addition to sponsoring provocative lectures arguing for an unconstrained right to bear arms, the students initiated a Second To None Week in which they carried 12-gauge shotguns (unloaded, let's say) to and from class and the dining halls. Would this stunt provoke a public reaction? Yes. Would conformism and fear contribute to the reaction? Yes. Would we be rightly skeptical if the sponsors disavowed the intention to provoke and claimed it was purely an educational endeavor? Yes. Would the same faculty who rushed to the defense of the Vagina Monologues on grounds of academic freedom lend their vocal support to Second To None Week? I doubt it, folks. I've been around. I can recognize an academic harlot.

A free man, however, need not succumb to solicitation. I am exercising this freedom in refusing to permit the performance of the Vagina Monologues. In the same spirit, and for the same reasons, I am declining to award to Reverend Fred Phelps the Theodore Hesburgh Chair of Social Ethics in the Notre Dame Department of Theology. I do not believe the immortal soul of any student, any staff member, or any professor will be imperilled by my thus inconveniencing their access to the thought of Ensler and Phelps. I believe the academy itself will be but slightly wounded by this curtailment of liberty. I believe God will forgive me if I have not judged aright.

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  • Posted by: - Apr. 08, 2006 10:37 AM ET USA

    Odysseus, I am trying to find where I heard that quote from Archbishop Sheen; I think I heard it on one of his "Life is Worth Living" broadcasts. I did find two other Sheen quotes that made me laugh: “There are two philosophies of life: the Christian philosophy and the Secular Philosophy. The Christian Philosophy is: first you fast, then you feast! The Secular philosophy is: first you feast, then comes the hangover!” and "Hearing nuns' confessions is like being stoned to death with popcorn."

  • Posted by: - Apr. 08, 2006 8:09 AM ET USA

    Convert, that is a great quote. Where did you find it? I will be sending my kids to public high school for precisely that reason. Most Catholics I know around here who went to Catholic schools through college are no longer Catholics, or the worst kind. I don't want that for my sons. Schools have not always been the primary educators. We need to stop blindly sending our kids at 5 or 18 to institutions that actively desire to harm them and the church with their corrupt ideologies.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 07, 2006 5:52 PM ET USA

    I guess I'm just too old-fashioned. I believe in the ascendancy of piety over prattle. God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. VM doesn't help anyone to achieve this goal. In so far as Notre Dame University is the university of Our Lady (the Mother of God) it is unacceptable for this kind of crap to have an audience on the campus. Perhaps the admissions process needs to be tweaked? Professors better scrutinized?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 07, 2006 12:33 PM ET USA

    "Send your children to a state university where they will have to fight for their faith rather than to a Catholic university where their faith will be taken from them." - Bishop Fulton Sheen

  • Posted by: - Apr. 07, 2006 12:43 AM ET USA

    FR. Jenkins is simply following the lead of other institutions claiming to be Catholic by allowing VM to be presented on campus. Do they still teach scholastic philosoppy at most Catholic universities? Logic? Gone by the wayside. Maybe losing to USC in football is their punishment.

  • Posted by: unum - Apr. 06, 2006 10:19 PM ET USA

    I urge you to write Bishop D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne Diocese asking that he deny ND the right to call itself a "Catholic" university as long as Fr. Jenkins maintains his position on the "Monologues". You can reach the Bishop at his secretary's email address - [email protected] Be nice ... but request that he act.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 06, 2006 9:45 PM ET USA

    "we can welcome any serious debate on any thoughtful position here at Notre Dame." - which is precisely why productions of this sort do not belong on any college campus, let alone a Catholic one. This production is neither serious nor thoughtful.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 06, 2006 7:26 PM ET USA

    Bravo, Diogenes! But where are we going to find anyone else with the -- umm, how should I put this so that it is modest and yet gets across my idea -- male anatomical parts to say it? We need men, not pansies!

  • Posted by: Margo - Apr. 06, 2006 7:15 PM ET USA

    Another example of the danger people face when they are so "open minded" that their brain fall out! Margo

  • Posted by: Remigius - Apr. 06, 2006 4:37 PM ET USA

    Pornographic expression is the last (or is it merelt the latest) frontier for Catholic educators. Hail the brave cleric who marches confidently into the pit of sin and degradation all the while throwing off specious justifications to distract and indict the stunned and disheartened faithful. The overthrow of Catholicism at ND is patent. This nonsensical statement is exhibit number 1. I ask the Padre a question: "Would you try to convince Jesus to see the VM?" If not, then why anyone else?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 06, 2006 4:16 PM ET USA

    I'd put my money on the following... an alumnus convinced Fr. John Jenkins that error in his ways and that he is suppressing the feminine aspect of his female and male students. And said alumnus has a very large endowment to prove it! Money makes places like ND run. Truth, faith and obedience are only ornamentation of the past.

  • Posted by: Sterling - Apr. 06, 2006 1:49 PM ET USA

    Notice that Fr. Jenkins serves notice that he may very well disallow any future production that has "contempt" for the "values and sensibilities" of any of "the diverse groups" that make up his community. So, if there's ever a play written about some gay guys giving up their "lifestyle" because they come to realize how perverted and harmful it is, don't expect it to be allowed on Notre Dame's campus. Aren't you sick to death of moral claptrap?

  • Posted by: Meg Q - Apr. 06, 2006 1:37 PM ET USA

    "I am very determined that we not suppress speech on this campus. I am also determined that we never suppress or neglect the Gospel that inspired this University." A false dichotomy. Father, you *did* study logic, didn't you? Also, who ever said "freedom of speech" was an absolute value for a truly Catholic university? And don't you have the guts to be radically countercultural for Jesus? C'mon.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 06, 2006 1:29 PM ET USA

    "But the souls of those whom Jenkins has endangered are much more precious than the golden dome." Our Lord most emphatically pronounced a "woe" on anyone who causes one of His little ones to sin, it would be bettter for him if he had a millstone tied around his neck and were tossed into the sea than to do that. I hope Jenkins hasn't just lost his soul by doing this. Would to God we had clergy who were men with a backbone enough to stand up under the pressure that he no doubt was under!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 06, 2006 11:35 AM ET USA

    We can only hope and pray that enough alumni and parents encourage a deep repentence on Father Jenkins' part as he sees declining revenues as a goad to moral action--a kind of collective size 14 shoe. The world and the Church will long survive the loss of Notre Dame University. But the souls of those whom Jenkins has endangered are much more precious that the golden dome.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 06, 2006 10:03 AM ET USA

    Only the strongest, most committed leader is able to stand up to this kind of "thought," because it pervades academia, corporate culture, and government and the price of bucking the tide is steep. The best solution is to strip Notre Dame of its "Catholic" credentials and let it compete with all the other over-priced secular colleges in the market place of education.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 06, 2006 8:54 AM ET USA

    When parents cease throwing their money and their children into the Notre Dame waters, when alumni say "Enough!" and toss their donations in another direction, only then will decisons such as Jenkins' be history - not before then. In the big leagues, money doesn't talk, it SCREAMS.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 06, 2006 8:48 AM ET USA

    I read his entire statement and not once -- not once -- did he mention "spiritual formation" -- instead "wide open intellectual exchange" featured a few times and "engaging the culture". And, needless to say, "immortal soul" featured nowhere in his text.