Over the years, The Vagina Monologues has become a lightning rod for controversy, debate and denouncements.
It was no different when last week University of Notre Dame president, Father John Jenkins, announced the controversial play would begin performances on the campus of the leading Catholic college in the United States. Father Jenkins said he was allowing the performance knowing full well that the play “will upset many,” but that his decision was reasonable as it included panels that would discuss the play and Catholic teaching. However, those upset include many Notre Dame alumni as well as Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who responded by criticizing the decision and suggesting that the play is “pornographic” and “spiritually damaging.”
The Vagina Monologues is a sexually explicit play that favorably describes lesbian activity, group masturbation and promotes a hedonistic sexuality. One scene in the play depicts the lesbian seduction of a teenage girl and describes it as the girl’s “salvation.” Father Jenkins said his decision to allow such a scandalous play on campus “arises from a conviction that it is an indispensable part of the mission of a Catholic university to provide a forum in which multiple viewpoints are debated in reasoned and respectful exchange.” Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology, the performance will begin on Easter Monday in the midst of the holiest time of the Catholic Church year.
It was just a few years ago, when canceling the performance of the notorious play at Providence College, that President Father Brian Shanley stated: “A Catholic college cannot sanction the performance of works of art that are inimical to the teaching of the Church in an area as important as female sexuality and the dignity of women.”
Bishop D’Arcy courageously challenged Father Jenkins’ view that the play was part of the mission of academic freedom and suggested that “the play is little more than a propaganda piece for the sexual revolution and secular feminism.” Father Jenkins seems to be relying upon a misunderstanding of the role of academic freedom and intellectual debate. The mission statement of the University of Notre Dame suggests that: “A Catholic university draws its basic inspiration from Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and from the conviction that in him all things can be brought to their completion.” The performance of The Vagina Monologues does not draw its inspiration from the wisdom of Jesus Christ but from a radical feminist view that degrades women’s dignity and debases the sexual teaching of the Catholic Church, while promoting a perverse view of human sexuality and elevating sexual hedonism. Not only does this scandalous play promote such views, but as Bishop D’Arcy rightly criticized, the play exalts them as a positive force for women.
Too many academic leaders on Catholic campuses remain timid in stemming the tide of the continued erosion of the Catholic identities of these universities and the promotion of Catholic values due to an increased practical atheism and radical secularism flourishing on campuses. Father Jenkins joins the long list of timorous Catholic college presidents who seem more interested in being politically correct and gaining acceptance by the intellectual elites on campus than they do in celebrating their Catholic identity. They seemingly, and at times quite willingly, allow radical secularism and sexual hedonism to reign on Catholic campuses under the guise of “academic freedom.”
The late Pope John Paul II, in an address to intellectuals in 1986, stated: “A faith that places itself on the margin of what is human, of what is therefore culture, would be a faith unfaithful to the fullness of what the Word of God manifests and reveals, a decapitated faith, worse still, a faith in the process of self-annihilation.” Father Jenkins’ decision to allow such a scandalous performance on a Catholic campus is the beginning of a “process of self-annihilation” and a further decapitation of the Catholic faith in South Bend.
We concur with Bishop D’Arcy in calling the play exactly what it is: “spiritually harmful pornography.” We join the Shepherd of South Bend in calling upon Father Jenkins to reconsider his poor decision and to cancel the play during Easter Week as it is a scandalous affront to all Catholics, especially the Catholic youth that inhabit the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend.