Censorship: Offending Catholics - What's the Catholic League Got against 'Priest,' 'Nothing Sacred,' and Now Terrence McNally's New Play, 'Corpus Christi'?

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What's the Catholic League got against Priest, Nothing Sacred, and now Terrence McNally's new play, Corpus Christi?

When Manhattan Theatre Club's top brass announced on May 28 that they would proceed with production of Terrence McNally's new play, Corpus Christi, artists as well as gay men and lesbians breathed a sigh of relief. Just a week earlier the theater had opted to cancel McNally's new work--which tells the story of a gay Christlike figure and his disciples, reportedly with sex offstage--citing anonymous telephone threats to bum down the theater, kill the staff, and "exterminate" McNally. The cancellation ignited a different firestorm, however. Within 24 hours the theater was engulfed by protests from New York's famously eloquent theatrical circles, who accused the theater of running scared and censoring an artist in the face of right-wing extremists. Result: The show would go on.

While Manhattan Theatre Club administrators called their decision a victory for artistic freedom, the fact that Corpus Christi will now be performed is a setback for a different organization: the New York City-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. The league's president, William A. Donohue, who campaigned against Corpus Christi for being "offensive to Catholics and all Christians," stated in a May 28 press release, "There is something terribly perverse going on in the artistic community. The need to offend Catholics is so deep and so sick that it can only be described as pathological.... What is perhaps most disturbing about this campaign to attack Catholics is the cowardly attempt to hide this bigotry under the covers of artistic expression."

The Catholic League grabbed national headlines with its 1995 attack on the gay-themed film Priest. Even more publicity surrounded the league's campaign against another drama about a. Catholic priest, ABC's now-defunct Nothing Sacred.

The league gets noticed partly because of its inflammatory prose. Witness its May 22 press release, which threatened that if any theater company decided to produce Corpus Christi, "it had better not be thin-skinned; we'll wage a war that no one will forget. …

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