Letter to the Editor from Decatur: Notre Dame President’s Statement
Published: May 18, 2006
To the Editor:
Regarding the decision of Notre Dame’s president permitting performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” as well as events such as a gay film festival (The Georgia Bulletin, May 11), the reasoning and context of the decision are available on the Web site of the University of Notre Dame (www.nd.edu; enter “Closing Statement” in the search box). As explained in his “Closing Statement,” Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, CSC, led a 10-week-long discussion open to faculty, students, administrators, alumni, and interested friends of the university. During this period, Father Jenkins attended this year’s performance of “The Vagina Monologues.” As he notes, the play “was brought into dialogue with Catholic tradition through panels that followed each performance.” The Catholic tradition on human sexuality was presented by the panelists, and “students and faculty engaged one another and these issues in serious and informed discussion.” The result was “a constructive and fruitful dialogue with the Catholic tradition” that enabled the audience to see “many laudable goals in the play,” the most urgent being “to inspire us to work with greater determination to eliminate violence against women.”
In his “Closing Statement,” Father Jenkins makes clear that much more important than permitting the presentation of this or that play or film, or of offering a platform for a speaker, is the issue of the nature and role of a Catholic university. As he states, “a Catholic university is where the Church does its thinking, and that thinking, to be beneficial, must come from an intellectually rigorous engagement with the world.” Against this background, Father Jenkins says to those opposed to the presentation at Notre Dame of plays, speeches, etc. that contradict Catholic teaching, “This is a Catholic university,” and accordingly, is “committed to a wide-open, unconstrained search for truth, and we are convinced that Catholic teaching has nothing to fear from engaging the wider culture.”
To those who are astonished that any questions are raised about speakers, plays, etc. performed on Notre Dame’s campus, he remarks, “This is a Catholic university,” and, as such, “is founded upon our belief that love of God and neighbor are eternal teachings that give context and meaning to our search for truth.” Citing Pope John Paul II, Father Jenkins notes that a Catholic university is “a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 3, 34).
While some have not agreed with the position enunciated by Father Jenkins, to publicize only the criticisms of a few, while ignoring the context and goal of Father Jenkins’ action, fails to do justice either to Notre Dame or to the important issue of the nature and role of a Catholic university.
James C. Doig, Decatur