Monologues Inspire Dialogue: Notre Dame President Pledges to Engage the Culture with Catholic Teaching

Article excerpt

Saying that "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," the University of Notre Dame's president, Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, called to a close a 10-week exploration of academic freedom and the university's Catholic character with a plan that "integrates the two and elevates both." The plan was announced in a statement released April 5.

In the statement he said the university's "goal is not to limit discussion or inquiry, but to enrich it; it is not to insulate that faith tradition from criticism, but to foster constructive engagement with critics."

One component of the plan is a document titled "Common Proposal" on sponsorship of controversial events drafted by Jenkins and academic department chairs.

The document's first point is that "a university has an obligation" to explore controversial issues and "a Catholic university has an added obligation" to consider controversial issues "in the light of Catholic teachings."

The Common Proposal, which must be presented to the university's Academic Council, says:

* Academic departments are best situated to decide what events should or should not be sponsored.

* Academic departments have a role in communicating the academic rationale for controversial events.

* Academic departments have to make clear that sponsorship does not imply endorsement of the views expressed by a speaker or of an event as a whole.

Another component of Jenkins' plan is the formation of an ad hoc committee comprising faculty members, administrators and students that he "charged with fostering a wide-ranging discussion of gender relations, roles, and ways to prevent violence against women."

Jenkins also said, "I will do all I can to support" a group of Notre Dame student leaders involved with "The Vagina Monologues" who are writing a play of their own in their voices and describing their experiences, titled "Loyal Daughters."

Jenkins launched the extended "campus conversation" on academic freedom and Catholic character in January while contemplating a dispute about whether "The Vagina Monologues" could be staged on campus.

The play by Eve Ensler is based on discussions with 200 girls and women about their feelings for their bodies and sexuality. Many in and outside the university have objected to the play as antithetical to Catholic teaching on sexuality. Jenkins said this himself in an address to faculty Jan. 23 (NCR, Feb. 10).

In his April 5 statement, Jenkins said: "This university was founded on the conviction that these goals are not just compatible, but essential, beneficial and mutually reinforcing. …