Editorial September 20, 2006, St Paul Pioneer Press
Play is no threat to Catholic Church
First things first: We support free expression. We believe that a wide variety of views that produce a wide variety of arguments is good for democracy and for our republic. We support the various lively but nonviolent ways in which those arguments occur.
This includes, for example, the decision of theater faculty at the University of Minnesota to stage the play "The Pope and the Witch" by Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo. It also includes the protesting of that decision by some Catholic organizations.
The competition of ideas is central to our faith in the U.S. system of governance. Ideas, and the institutions that embody them, should, over time, rise and fall on their merits.
By any measure, the Roman Catholic Church is one of the world's most enduring institutions. Not because it has always lived its highest ideals — like every other human institution, it hasn't — but because it has pursued them, and has competed effectively in the marketplace of human yearning. It has been both liberal and conservative, both liberating and constraining, in combinations that have sustained it.
It takes a stand on many of society's most difficult issues. It is big and strong and demanding. Its strictures and role in shaping cultural boundaries are natural inspirations for artists of a rebellious spirit, many emerging from Catholic upbringings.
The church, therefore, becomes a target, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly.
It's not difficult to understand why some Catholic organizations don't like the idea of "The Pope and the Witch" — and the idea that a state-supported institution would stage it. Anti-Catholic sentiment (some of which the humans who run the church brought on themselves) is real. And the headlines are full of mortal conflict that purports to have religion at its core. In the competition of ideas, there is a great deal at stake.
Which is precisely why there's a better response to the play than trying to shut it down. It's why a stronger response would be to reaffirm faith in the church, to affirm its ability to tolerate criticism, to stand strongly for the church's best attributes.
In its protest of the play, the Catholic League argues that we, as a newspaper or as a society, would never countenance similar free expression if it instead targeted, say, blacks, gays, Jews or Muslims.
The fact is, we as a society do countenance such expression, or, at the least, tolerate it. It happens all the time. Public response to it is influenced partly by public perception of power: He who has more is in a better position to take a punch. It's that power that attracts artistic critique.
That's not an argument for or against "The Pope and the Witch." We can't vouch for its artistic merit, or the merit of its arguments.
But we have enough faith in our fellow citizens to believe that they will judge it fairly on those merits.
Whatever other challenges it may have, the Catholic Church is up to this one. Pioneer Press
The following was sent in reply to the Editorial of the Pioneer Press:
You said in your editorial that the scurrilous play, “The Pope and the Witch”, scheduled by the UofMN for next March, is “no threat to the Catholic Church.” So apparently, the Church must accept this abuse.
In response to the Catholic League’s (of New York) charge that your newspaper or society “would never countenance similar free expression if it instead targeted, say, blacks, gays, Jews or Muslims”, you have refused to reply with respect to your newspaper’s position. You say that society should tolerate such expressions.
Interesting. Just how many of the Danish cartoons did your newspaper print last February when the Islamic world was outraged about that form of expression? Is it your position that Catholics must take abuse, but Islam should not?
Ray From MN