Saturday, September 16, 2006

University refuses to block controversial 'Pope and the Witch'

Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights Outraged

The play, "The Pope and the Witch" skewers the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church. It stirs the anger of Catholics who view its story of a paranoid, heroin-addled pontiff and his corrupt aides as blasphemy.

And it's coming soon to the University of Minnesota.

The U's theater department will stage the play in early March. A national Catholic group this week began urging Minnesota Catholics to "rebel" against performing it at the state's flagship campus. Internet bloggers questioned whether the university would produce a play like "Pope" that lampooned Islam or Judaism.

U leaders say the play will go on and that the university must be a place for even unpopular views. As for religious controversy, a spokesman noted that the U this month will play host to a gay Muslim activist speaking on "the lives of queer Muslims."

Friction over "Pope" is likely to build as opening night nears, renewing an ages-long battle over how public institutions balance religious sensitivity and free expression.

The play has been a target for years of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. The New York-based group calls playwright Dario Fo, a 1997 Nobel Prize winner, an "anti-Catholic bigot" and has protested "Pope" at other venues. This may be the first time the league has challenged it on a public campus.

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 "crucifixion stroke," a witch who favors abortion and drug legalization, and revelations of evil in the church hierarchy, according to a 2000 New York Times review.

Satire or sacrilege? That's the question at the heart of the debate. [snip] Pioneer Press

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