Saturday, November 4, 2006

The University of Minnesota says academic freedom trumps Catholic protests over "The Pope and the Witch." Bishops Sadly Acquiesce!

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U to Keep Controversial

Play on Schedule

The University of Minnesota says academic freedom trumps Catholic protests over "The Pope and the Witch."

The show will go on.

The University of Minnesota said Friday that the academic and artistic value of the satirical play "The Pope and the Witch," to be staged in March, is stronger than Catholic claims that it's blasphemous.

Italian Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo's 1989 work, one of several productions in the Department of Theatre Arts this school year, features a paranoid, drug-addled pope, a witch in nun's habit and a chaotic comedy of errors.

Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis met this week with university President Robert Bruininks to voice concerns about the play, said university spokesman Daniel Wolter. Their talk was "a cordial meeting with a cordial outcome," said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath, who said news and blog accounts have exaggerated the controversy.

[No wonder we lose these battles! It appears that the Chancery has surrendered. But the public hasn't been entirely heard from yet.]

"The Pope and the Witch" has a long history of sparking protests. The New York-based Catholic League, whose president, Bill Donohue, calls the play "pure hate speech," has criticized its appearance at theaters that receive public money from the National Endowment for the Arts. Demonstrations have been held at several colleges where the play has been staged.

[As far as I can tell, it has been perfomed at two universities, a civic theater and in an off-Broadway theater in the lastten years. Not exactly what you would call a dramatic blockbuster for which the public is clamoring for seats!]

Colleen Perfect of St. Paul, a representative of Catholic Parents Online, said the group shares Flynn's distress over the play. "Tolerating this type of hate is giving license to defamation," she said via e-mail. "One can only imagine what kind of upheaval would take place on campus if the U staged a play smearing Mohammed."

Wolter said the university will hold several forums next year that will offer opportunities for debate about the play.

[These Forums will appear right before the Forums to be held on the place of Islam in American culture. Sure!]

"It's not our role to be a rigid censor; it is also not our intent to offend folks," he said. "But academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas are the hallmarks of higher education."

[If it's not your intention to offend, why do you do it? Boffo Boxoffice receipts?]

Director Robert Rosen said he picked the play, which was approved by a department committee, because it's "very topical, addressing issues we see in the newspaper every day -- birth control, abortion, drugs, religion and politics."Part of my job as an artist is to bring the contemporary world to the stage," he said. "A lot of people upset about this play call Fo a Communist, but in reality he managed to anger both the Communist Party and the Italian right wing."

[It would be interesting to see what the makeup of a department committee in the theater department of a large secular university would be. Catholics are about 20% of the State of Minnesota. Do you suppose that the committee has 20% Catholics on it? They believe in diversity for everything else; why not Catholics?]

Rosen said the play is not an attack on the Catholic faith but rather "a portrayal of the Vatican's power structure and its ability to make policy that has a worldwide effect."I welcome discussion and debate," he said. "One of the roles of theater is to put things out there for people to think and talk about."

[It also would be interesting to see a list of works that the department has put on that have attacked the leaders of other minority groups.]

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