FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend has criticized the University of Notre Dame for once again allowing an on-campus production of “The Vagina Monologues,” a play that explicitly discusses women’s sexuality.
In a March 12 statement, Bishop John M. D’Arcy reiterated his objections to the play being performed at Notre Dame as it has been in previous years, calling it “an affront to human dignity.”
The bishop noted that this year’s production at the university was even more offensive because performances were scheduled on Monday and Tuesday of Easter week.
The play, based on interviews with numerous women, is a series of monologues in which women discuss their sexual experiences, including rape and other forms of violence against them.
For the 10th year in a row, college campuses across the country have sponsored limited productions of the play with students reading the script. The shows are put on to benefit a campaign called V-Day, which raises money for organizations working to stop violence against women and girls.
For the past several years, the staging of the play at several Catholic universities has brought criticism from those who say the play is inappropriate for a Catholic setting.
The play is usually staged around Valentine’s Day but performances were extended to March 30 this year. In noting the Notre Dame performances scheduled for March 24 and 25, Bishop D’Arcy said they would occur during the “holiest time of the church year.”
“Notre Dame has a long and blessed tradition of liturgical excellence, a tradition both theoretical and practical and eminently pastoral and prayerful,” he said. “Surely Notre Dame will not prefer or even seem to prefer the requirements of the V-Day campaign to the proper observance of Easter.”
The bishop said he and Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, had several discussions about hosting the play on campus.
“I am grateful to Father Jenkins for the extensive time he has put into our conversation and correspondence on these matters over the last two months,” the bishop said.
He said the priest told him that the way the school is presenting the play “is consistent with the identity of a Catholic university.” It will be in an academic building, there will be no fundraising effort and it will be followed by a panel discussion presenting the Catholic perspective.
Father Jenkins compared the play with books the students read in class by authors who espouse ideas contrary to Catholic teaching.
“As bishop of this historic diocese, entrusted with the spiritual welfare of all those who live within its borders, including the students at our beloved Notre Dame, I believe that, once again, I must publicly and respectfully disagree with Father Jenkins’ decision,” Bishop D’Arcy said.
“I am convinced that permitting performances of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is not consistent with the identity of a Catholic university and not comparable to the long-accepted academic tradition through which a wide variety of authors are read and discussed in classes at Notre Dame and in all institutions of higher learning,” he added.
Bishop D’Arcy said book discussions do not compare with watching a play because after a book or play is read in class, the student expects it to be discussed and critiqued. “This is not so when one attends the performance of a play,” he said, adding “Father Jenkins’ attempt to give the performances of this play an academic quality seems deficient.”
He also said the performances, even without fundraising, advance the V-Day campaign, which he said has an agenda that is “directly opposed to the dignity of the human person and is antithetical to Catholic teaching.”
In a March 10 statement, Father Jenkins said he was “well aware that the performance of this play will upset many.”
He noted that it was painful for him that Bishop D’Arcy did not approve of his decision and that some Notre Dame alumni “see the performance of this play on campus as contrary to our Catholic mission.”
He also pointed out that others are “upset at the restrictions on this performance.”
“My decision on this matter 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 – always in dialogue with faith and the Catholic tradition – even around highly controversial topics,” Father Jenkins said.
He added that Notre Dame’s policy on events that stir controversy “rests on the conviction that truth will emerge from reasoned consideration of issues in dialogue with faith, and that we will educate Catholic leaders not by insulating our students from controversial views, but by engaging these views energetically, in light of Catholic teachings.”