The state's top Catholic leaders have taken a rare step in collectively calling on University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks to reconsider the U's plan to stage a controversial play they view as anti-Catholic.
"The Pope and the Witch," a satire depicting the pope as a paranoid, drug-addled idiot and the Vatican as corrupt, drew the ire this fall of a national Catholic group and some local bloggers.
Last week, Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, along with bishops from Crookston to Winona, wrote to Bruininks calling the play offensive to the state's 1.6 million Catholics. They urged Bruininks to rethink its staging this March on the campus of the state's flagship public university.
Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said Thursday that he couldn't recall a time when the state's bishops had made such a combined request.
The bishops "have to stand up for the faith," McGrath said. "They can't be silent in a case like this and won't be."
The U reiterated Thursday there are no plans to stop the play.
Flynn and Bruininks met Wednesday to discuss the play and other issues, said U spokesman Dan Wolter. Bruininks "explained that the university will not reconsider the staging of the play, but underscored that our commitment to academic freedom also includes listening and giving a forum to the views of those who have concern with the play's content," Wolter said. The U, Wolter added, is planning a forum in conjunction with the play.
No one at the university could recall a similar instance where religious leaders have encouraged an event to be canceled, he said.
"The Pope and the Witch" has been a target for years of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Scenes include a paranoid pope convinced that thousands of orphans appearing in St. Peter's Square are part of a plot by condom makers to embarrass the church, a witch who favors abortion and drug legalization, and revelations of evil in the church hierarchy, according to a 2000 New York Times review.
Robert Rosen, who'll direct the play at the U, writes on the theater department Web site that, "I chose this play because it is political. It takes a stand on issues in the forefront of our daily lives. It is funny, irreverent and to the point."
The key question: Is it satire or sacrilege?
The U in September said campus must be a place for even very unpopular views. That drew a rebuke from Flynn. "One wonders how 'The Pope and the Witch' could possibly enhance intellectual life when that kind of hatred and prejudice is tolerated by the University of Minnesota," he wrote in a column for the Catholic Spirit newspaper. "It is even funded by the University of Minnesota. And, who is paying for this? You and I — the Catholics in Minnesota, among others, through our taxes."
McGrath on Thursday called "The Pope and the Witch" a "direct mockery of the holy father" and completely different from plays like "Nunsense" that poke fun at Catholic traditions in a light-hearted way.
At this point, the U has received a few hundred e-mails and letters on the issue, with a substantial number coming from outside Minnesota, a typical volume for organized e-mail campaigns, Wolter said. The play, he added, has been staged at Yale University, University of New Mexico and the University of Denver and is planned for Tulane University next year.
However it turns out, McGrath said the archdiocese has no plans to organize protests or call Catholics to action against the U. "We have a great deal of admiration for the university, its arts and activities," he said. "There's not going to be any continued rancor that grows out of this." St Paul Pioneer Press
That last paragraph is the reason that the University sees no need to cancel the play. The Bishops have already surrendered.
Well, The Bishops may not act, but you can bet that in the next four months, there will be lots more letters and probably some direct demonstrations. The Catholics in the pews are sick and tired of their Church and their God being the target for the enjoyment of the godless, paid for at public expense!
Other than a performance at the University of Denver in November 1995, and an October 1996 performance at Yale University, no other American universities seem to have staged this play in the last ten years. Professor Rosen's comment that it is "funny, irreverent and to the point" must not be thought so by other drama teachers.
Or maybe it is that the really great theater departments, like at Northwestern, USC, UCLA, etc., recognize trash when they see it and don't want to be associated with it.
Minnesota used to have a great Theater Department when I was enrolled there. One of the premier departments in the country. Now we pay for second rate people to choose cheap laughs at the expense of the only minority in the country that they can abuse and ridicule with no fear of legal ramifications.