Wednesday, February 13, 2008

'Monologues', Bishops & Notre Dame: Observer Viewpoint

Here are today's Observer viewpoint letters on the 'logs:
Monday marked the 150th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. In honor of the occasion University President Emeritus Father Hesburgh delivered the homily for the Basilica's evening mass service. This beautiful sermon, which celebrated the miracles associated with Notre Dame - particularly Father Sorin's naming a (then) mere log cabin the University of Our Lady, the university's rebuilding after a devastating fire, and the creation of the Golden Dome - served as the reconciling capstone to the controversies that have afflicted the University recently.

I was deeply disturbed to hear that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had retreated from its original intention to hold its seminar on the Notre Dame campus because the timing of the event might look like support for Eve Ensler's "Monologues." I understand the Conference of Catholic Bishops' seminar is a private event and that those who objected to holding it at Notre Dame were not doing so to reflect adversely on the university, but a conference in February does not indicate endorsement of a production in March. Our Lady is loved and protected by the Father and nothing that human beings do can stain her, as some have claimed on-campus performances of the Monologues would do. What can be stained are human institutions like universities - but not by a sincere search for the truth, wherever that search leads us. Notre Dame is a Catholic university. Love and pursuit of truth, as a Catholic institution and as a university, is its absolute mission and staging the "Monologues," in an appropriate academic forum, is consistent with that mission.

The "Monologues" is not in line with Catholic doctrine. They were not meant to be. They were written from a secular perspective to explore women's identities and to acknowledge women's value as whole persons. Personally, I think the way the various skits articulate women's value is mostly (though not entirely) wrong and would be greatly enhanced by including Catholic perspectives (as Notre Dame's Loyal Sons and Daughters does). But this does not destroy the fact that the production attempts, however wrongly, to acknowledge women's experience. What remains is for Catholics to take this attempt in the right direction, not to discourage an open discussion of what the characters in each skit are trying to convey about women's experience of suffering, joy, pleasure - and the devastation that abused sexuality causes. Father Jenkins made the right decision in balancing the demands of academic freedom with those of Notre Dame's Catholic identity. His decision has been misrepresented by the national media and he has not received much support from those on either side of the controversy.

Father Hesburgh's sermon crystallized for me why I had felt this to be a particularly pernicious injustice. Father Hesburgh spoke about the reverence that Father Sorin had for Our Lady - that it was his particular love for her that channeled his faith in God into the creation of this university. The miracles that Father Hesburgh mentioned are visible signs of Our Lady's intercession, but they are not the only miracles. The repentance of hardened sinners, the healing of bodies broken by illness or sin, and the redemption of humanity by Our Lord's suffering - these are miracles. And if faith is the belief in things not seen, then faith can find Christ in the experiences described in the "Monologues." The faculty discussion panels that Father Jenkins' policy requires to be part of any on-campus production of the "Monologues" are the academic response to Christ's directive, "Seek and ye shall find." Catholic faculty and students have a duty to participate in these panels and discussions actively and whole-heartedly. We are at Notre Dame to find the

Truth: let's seek it with courage and charity, trusting that God will not mislead us. Father Jenkins is continuing the faithful leadership of Father Sorin, Father Hesburgh (the first Notre Dame President to admit women to the university of Our Lady), and Catholic leaders who, trusting in God's goodness, take on the burden of turning a mustard seed into a flourishing university. Good for Notre Dame.

Sam Cahill
English Ph.D. candidate
off campus
Feb. 11
Christina Holmstrom ("Monologues encourage mistreatment of women," Feb. 11) raises an interesting point; she claims that discussing the Vagina Monologues as an issue of Academic Freedom is to "woefully miss the mark." In this, I believe Holmstrom to be correct. I would, however come to a vastly different conclusion regarding the fate of the "Monologues." "The Vagina Monologues" seeks to reclaim the sense of what it means to be a woman, to stop women from being ashamed of their sexuality and to raise awareness regarding violence perpetrated against women.

These goals are perfectly in keeping with the Catholic Church's teaching on sex and sexuality. The Church does not speak of sex as evil or morally wrong provided it is exercised in the right way. Rather, the Church teaches that "sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure" (Catechism, 2362). Do the monologues present an inappropriate use of sexuality? The answer may well be yes.

The play may present acts that are not well ordered to good relationships with God and others. The general ethos of the Monologues is, however, edifying to those who attend the play, provided they understand something about the feminist movement and approach the play with a critical eye.

Further, and this point is clear, "Monologues" raises important questions. How do we reclaim our sexuality? What is the correct way to express that sexuality? When sexual violence has been perpetrated against a woman (or a man) how do we heal? Our esteemed President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh once said: "The University is where the Church does its thinking." Our theology department is grounded in this philosophy; I would argue that it is not simply academic theologians who are to do the thinking of the Church. Rather we are all called to engage in this discussion.

The presence of "The Vagina Monologues" on campus is not a question of academic freedom. It is, however, necessarily tied to our Catholic character. As the premier Catholic university in this country, it is our duty to perform these monologues. Where else, if not at Notre Dame can we have this discussion? Where else can the Church do this thinking? I urge Dean Roche, Father Jenkins and you, the students, to join me in this dialogue: Approach the monologues with a critical eye and engage in the thinking of the Church.

Meli Barber
McGlinn Hall
Feb. 12


Anonymous said...

Meli raised a very good point but if it comes down to a choice between academics and the church, which is more important to a Catholic university? Or is Notre Dame a university that happens to be Catholic?

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be rude to Meli, but I would appreciate if you could point out what was good about Meli's viewpoint. Is it that the Monologues are edifying? I think that is one of the major points of contention. Is it that the Monologues raises questions? The so-called clear answering is becoming buried underneath the sheer controversy.

The truth is, even from an academic standpoint or even a feminist viewpoint, the play is no longer effective (if it ever was effective) on Notre Dame's campus.

Anonymous said...

I believe I posted this comment earlier. Was it not accepted? The following is a great article!

Dana Jacobson starring in “The Vagina Monologues”? MAYBE at Notre Dame, but definitely on Fighting Irish Thomas.

The Vagina Monologues’ St. Valentine’s Day Massacre at Notre Dame: An open letter to Fr. Jenkins