One of the oddities of modern-day Catholic higher education, particularly in institutions run by Jesuit priests, is that Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues seems to be more ubiquitous on such campuses than Nativity scenes or Crucifixes.
Recently, Rev. Kenneth Himes, OFM, explained how the Theology department at Boston College came to sponsor such a production. In comments to Michael Reer, editor-in-chief of The Observer, the Catholic newspaper at BC, Rev. Himes laid out his rationale for giving the show the go-ahead at BC.
His comments did not make it into Reer’s article but are provided here for the first time. “As chair of the department, like other chairs, I make executive decisions all the
time,” he stated to Reer. “The entire department is not consulted on any lecture or event
that we sponsor or co-sponsor.”
“Since the chair is democratically elected by the department I make executive decisions on lots of matters without consulting the department as a whole, e.g. approving
visiting scholars, hiring work study students, signing off on undergraduate research grants, making office assignments, etc.”
“Cosponsoring an event is a decision akin to those examples of ordinary executive or administrative decisions.” Rev. Himes insisted that his comments on “the relationship between the Monologues and theology on a Catholic campus” be quoted in full. Accordingly, we will do so:
“Several years ago the then-head of the Women’s Studies Program
asked if theology would cosponsor the performance of the Vagina
Monologues at BC. It had already been performed on campus previously.”
“I checked with people at other schools where the ‘Monologues’ had been
held and received mixed reviews from people. Some thought it useful for exploring women’s issues if accompanied by panels and discussions.”
“In short, it was judged by some to be a non-classroom educational experience. Others told me they thought it was crude, even vulgar.”
“No one at BC indicated to me that the theatrical work was unacceptable and the administration certainly did not prevent its performance. Therefore, I judged the sponsorship request to be reasonable; it came from responsible people, and it offered the possibility of conversation on serious matters in the context of an educational community.”
“I understand the work is provocative, but that does not translate
to the conclusion it is not art. If you had a chance to visit the
McMullen Museum to see the wonderful exhibition of Georges Rouault’s
works, you know that his work was deemed crude, even vulgar, by some
at the time.”
Reer had actually written an article about the controversy over the Monologues for The Observer, quoting sources from both the faculty and student body alike who clearly found the play “unacceptable.” Moreover, the fact that the play cannot be performed at BC in a room with a Crucifix should have been a big red flag for the Franciscan friar.
Interestingly, Rev. Himes hinted to Reer that this performance of the Monologues at BC may be the last on campus. Rev. Himes cited “budgetary responsibilities” as a reason why the play might not be revived on campus, with nary a word about theological concerns.
“Whether or not I decide for the department to cosponsor the event this year will have to factor in a new element; namely, the two percent in budget savings that each department has been asked to make this fiscal year,” Rev. Himes wrote.
The “panels and discussions” Rev. Himes spoke of have been a part of Monologues staged at BC in the past. Last year, on one such dais, Reer made the case against the production, facing a quartet in favor of it which included three professors and the director of the show.
Arguably, Rev. Himes is in need of what Fox News provocateur Bill O’Reilly might call a “reality check,” and not for the first time. In an article in America, the national Catholic weekly, Rev. Himes claimed that young people enter the military “to escape poverty, acquire an education, move beyond a marginalized Status,” rather than simply serving their country.
You can get the lowdown on what is really happening at BC from Reer and the other fine reporters on the staff of The Observer. Be sure to visit their website.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.