A good protest should draw a crowd


Some of you may recall that I got rather cranky with some sensitive Catholics who wanted to cancel a play — “The Pope and the Witch”, currently playing on the Twin Cities campus. Unfortunately, although we’d hope to go, we had this succession of snowstorms that made traveling impractical this past week (I may still go at the end of this coming week, since the last day of the play coincides with the last day of classes before spring break and my birthday). Anyway, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press picked up on it. I put the article below the fold to preserve the fact that they quoted me, and to let you read the tale of some very whiny Catholics.

Janice LaDuke bought a ticket for tonight’s opening of “The Pope and the Witch” at the University of Minnesota. But don’t expect her to applaud.

She plans to say the rosary, silently, during the performance. For her, the play isn’t a political satire — it’s the university ridiculing her faith.

“As a Catholic, you can’t separate the hierarchy Â… from the traditions and scriptural teachings of the faith,” LaDuke said. That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical of some facets, she added, but “I’m not convinced this play is respectful in its criticism.”

Months of boiling controversy come to a head tonight as the U’s theater department opens a week of “The Pope and the Witch,” a play that depicts the pope as a paranoid, heroin-addled idiot and the Vatican as corrupt.

U officials don’t expect any disruptions during the run. But they are adding more security for the performances and will take the rare step of checking bags at the door.

The performances, which go through March 9, cap a debate that has played out in Internet blogs and on editorial pages the past few months and that has opened a small window on the tensions of religious and secular life playing out in the Twin Cities and worldwide.

Critics have ripped the play as anti-Catholic. In November, Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis called on the U to reconsider its staging; University President Robert Bruininks declined to cancel it, arguing the school must be a place for many views.

The play’s director says it’s a political and social farce, not an attack on the faithful.

Written by Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, the play includes a pro-abortion witch, revelations of evil in the Vatican hierarchy and a paranoid pope who is convinced that thousands of orphans massing in St. Peter’s Square are part of a plot by birth-control supporters to embarrass the church.

The play is purposely outrageous but deals with “real things, real tangible issues,” director Robert Rosen said. “Sometimes when you do that, take an extreme view of something, you can say, ‘Gosh it made me look at that a certain way.’ “

Rosen said the play isn’t about the Vatican and disagreed with those who don’t see the Vatican as a political body.

On Monday, P.Z. Myers, a University of Minnesota-Morris biologist who writes Pharyngula, an internationally known science blog, castigated people who are angry at the U for producing a “blasphemous” play.

“Blasphemy is highly educational, and I hope our university can do more of it,” Myers wrote. “We are not here to reassure you that your ignorance and prejudices are alright, we’re supposed to shake up our students.”

Where one person sees satire, another sees sacrilege.

The Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, moderator of the Catholic Online Forum and a graduate of the U’s theater program, posted a letter to Bruininks last week suggesting that “Pope” — a rarely performed play — is so vile that the university president should report himself to the U’s equal-opportunity office on grounds of religious discrimination.

While the university says it’s open to all views, LaDuke and other critics don’t believe the university would take on a similar project that, say, Muslims would find offensive. University leaders counter that the U takes on many controversial subjects and speakers from a wide range of social and political thought.

Said Rosen: “I’m not interested in Â… poking fun at any religion or culture just to poke fun at them. For me this play deals with a lot of social issues.”

A forum for people to discuss the play is scheduled following the March 8 performance. The archdiocese doesn’t plan to participate in the “talkback” session, which will be led by a trio of U professors with expertise in literature, culture and theater — but not anyone connected to religious or Catholic studies.

Julie Olson, another Twin Cities blogger who has kept close watch on the issue, said that while it’s normal for Catholics and others to question their religion, it’s not acceptable for the moral teachings of the church to be skewered as political.

She worries that what’s intended as humor will bring ridicule and lead to Catholics on campus feeling a backlash similar to the scorn she said Catholics encountered from people who read “The Da Vinci Code” and considered it factual.

“Our concerns just haven’t been answered,” she said, “and I think our concerns are legitimate.”

One of our offended Minnesota Catholics has posted a review, and the Star Tribune comments on the opening performance—about 250 people attended, and 70 were outside, protesting.

Comments

  1. afterthought says

    Well, I am glad UMTC did not wimp out. That happens too much these days. The play sounds interesting though I can’t really get a read on how good the performance is with all the foolishness reducing the S/N ratio. Maybe you will find a link to an actual review of the play as a play and not as a controversy?
    Better yet, please go and let us know.

  2. 386sx says

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,686,Pope-is-warned-of-a-green-Antichrist,Richard-Owen-Times-Online

    An arch-conservative cardinal chosen by the Pope to deliver this year’s Lenten meditations to the Vatican hierarchy has caused consternation by giving warning of an Antichrist who is “a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist”.

    Wow, doesn’t sound like much of an Antichrist.

    A “fun fact” footnote following that article:

    -When the Pope addressed the European Parliament in 1988 the Rev Ian Paisley interrupted him, shouting, “I renounce you as the Antichrist!”

    I never knew that! Wow.

  3. says

    For yet more comparative religion fun, check the entry from the same Minnesota Catholic blog as PZ links to– this time, on what is apparently some sort of odd sect of Catholicism: here.

  4. Millimeter Wave says

    A “fun fact” footnote following that article:

    -When the Pope addressed the European Parliament in 1988 the Rev Ian Paisley interrupted him, shouting, “I renounce you as the Antichrist!”

    I never knew that! Wow.

    I didn’t know that either, but I bet that would have been quite a piece of theatre. (suggest Pharyngulans not familiar with Rev. Paisley to look him up…)

  5. Volvox says

    afterthought

    I will be seeing the play in the next few days and will follow-up.

    Of course, in media terms, the play is just an excuse for all the “theatrics” taking place outside the theater.

  6. says

    Janice LaDuke bought a ticket for tonight’s opening of “The Pope and the Witch” at the University of Minnesota. But don’t expect her to applaud.

    She plans to say the rosary, silently, during the performance.

    That’s not a good idea. It might be tempting to suck that cavity, but it’s just going to hurt a lot.

  7. Gene Goldring says

    I would love to view a video of the talkback session to be held on the 8th. The cries of persecution should be deafening and fun to watch.

  8. says

    Some Catholics can really be thin skinned. I remember a few years ago some Catholic group was protesting someplace that was going to have the interactive show “Late Night Catechism.” I took my wife to see it on our first date nearly 10 years ago, and as an atheist, I was looking forward to seeing a show that really lampooned Catholicism, but it was actually rather respectful I thought. The humor was pretty clean and being an audience interactive show, it was fun too. So when I read in the paper that it was being protested, I was like “What planet are these guys on?”

  9. CalGeorge says

    I didn’t know the Pope was gay! This changes everything!

    Everybody knows he is gay, and his boyfriend is his private secretary, [Monsignor Georg Gänswein].

    Gänswein is a handsome, blond, 50-year-old amateur ­pilot, ­tennis player and former ski instructor. The Italian Web site Gay.it calls Gänswein “the new sex symbol of the Vatican City … It’s no surprise that [Ratzinger] has decided to bring with him this young and fascinating collaborator.”
    http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/482310p-405938c.html

  10. brandon says

    A Catholic who denies the corruption of the Vatican and the church is a Catholic who is intellectually dishonest and miserably ignorant of her faith and its history.

    Most recently (and ignoring corruption in financial and humanitarian activities for the more sensational) every single one of those bastards was fully complicit in acts of pedophilia. From the last Pope to this Pope, from the parish priests to your cardinal. Documents, proceedings, testimony, and what little is allowed to slip past the hem of the stole of secrecy prove, beyond any doubt, that all had knowledge of the goings on. All chose fealty to the Church over the ethical and moral perogatives of denunciation and prosecution. All perpetuated The Church’s actual rape of children. I repeat. We, Catholics, our clergy, ourselves for trusting evil men when we knew better, raped an entire generation of children, probably several. We are all complicit in this crime.

    So, fuck them if they can’t take a joke; they certainly had no compunctions letting the church fuck their children.

    /I say this is a fully-catecismicized Catholic who just happens to be an atheist. cf. atheist Jew if anyone has a problem with that identity.

  11. says

    DaveX: Do you have any idea what she finds so objectionable about this other church? I mean, obviously pretty much all theological disputes are entirely arbitrary in the end, but most of them at least make sense. I can make neither head nor tail of that post.

  12. craig says

    Missing protests sucks. This week I missed the opportunity to show up at my city hall to support our City Manager.

    After 17 years with a good record on the job, someone leaked the news that he was planning gender reassignment surgery.

    They fired him.

  13. craig says

    (not to imply that I’d be protesting this play, of course. It’s late, I’m sleepy and incoherent.)

  14. says

    [Olson] worries that what’s intended as humor will bring ridicule and lead to Catholics on campus feeling a backlash similar to the scorn she said Catholics encountered from people who read “The Da Vinci Code” and considered it factual.

    Oh how it stings to be scorned by somebody who considers a work of fiction to be factual! But it stings even more when they then call you ‘blasphemous’ for not sharing their credulity faith.

  15. Thony C. says

    “Julie Olson, another Twin Cities blogger who has kept close watch on the issue, said that while it’s normal for Catholics and others to question their religion, it’s not acceptable for the moral teachings of the church to be skewered as political.”

    The Vatican has been one of the most virulently political organisations in the world for more than one thousand years.

  16. says

    She worries that what’s intended as humor will bring ridicule and lead to Catholics on campus feeling a backlash similar to the scorn she said Catholics encountered from people who read “The Da Vinci Code” and considered it factual.

    Anyone who seriously places a Dario Fo play and The DaVinci Code on the same level of literary criticism is not to be taken at all seriously.

    “Our concerns just haven’t been answered,” she said, “and I think our concerns are legitimate.”

    The fact that you haven’t gotten your way does not mean that your “concerns” haven’t been “answered.” More likely, it means either that A) your “concerns” are completely baseless, or B) nobody really gives a crap what you “think” in the first place.

    Reason #99345756 why religious people piss me off: Almost all of their arguments can be boiled down to something like “Me, me, me. It’s all about me. Bitch, moan, bitch, moan, me, me, me. Why isn’t anyone listening to me? Me, me, me — and in case you didn’t hear me the first time — ME, ME, ME!!!”

    All that crypto-narcissism in what is essentially nothing more than a desperate attempt to compensate for their pathological fear of irrelevance and death. It’s pathetic, really. It’d be funny if they didn’t start killing people because of it so often.

  17. says

    She worries that what’s intended as humor will bring ridicule and lead to Catholics on campus feeling a backlash similar to the scorn she said Catholics encountered from people who read “The Da Vinci Code” and considered it factual.

    And also:

    The existence of people who aren’t smart enough to distinguish between reality and (poorly written) fiction does not mean that the distinction between reality and fiction ought to be discarded.

    You can pretend that the Catholic heirarchy is magically flawless all you want. The rest of us are not under any obligation to believe you, or even to be nice to you about it.

  18. Carlie says

    I skipped Pharyngula this morning in my normal “check the websites” ritual, because I felt a little worn out on evolution and religion. Not that it’s not important, but I just didn’t feel like it at the moment. So, I went to the New York Times to look at the Sunday magazine instead. SIGH

    And people wonder why we get so touchy. Can’t even read the paper without seeing a huge debate about reality.

  19. abeja says

    A Catholic who denies the corruption of the Vatican and the church is a Catholic who is intellectually dishonest and miserably ignorant of her faith and its history.

    That about sums it up for all the catholics I know. Deny deny deny. They wear blindfolds about what’s going on in their church today, and they don’t know crap about it’s history. Or at least they won’t admit it.

  20. says

    Joshua– I’m not exactly sure I can make sense of it either! What struck me as incredibly funny was how she says “I did not change a word of the bulletin column. That is exactly what it says.” I actually re-read it a couple times, looking for something shocking. It’s just another example of how ridiculous and divisive these ideas are.

  21. Dutch vigilante says

    So.. are people forced to watch this play? There are more than enough plays I find offensive, so I don’t watch them.

    I really don’t understand this. If you don’t like something, don’t bloody watch it.

  22. CalGeorge says

    I like what the Catholic League had to say. Always good for a laugh:

    “Imagine an anti-Semitic play, written by a Hitlerian, being performed at the University of Minnesota. Imagine, too, that Jews complain and the president of the university justifies the play on free speech grounds. Imagine, as well, that the play is defended by non-Jewish professors in charge of the production. Now really let your imagination run: bowing to pressure from Jews, a panel discussion on the play is scheduled, but no one from the Jewish community is invited to participate. Well, exactly this has happened, except that it’s not Jews who are being assaulted by the University of Minnesota–it’s Catholics.

    http://www.catholicleague.org/07press_releases/quarter_1/070227_uminn_sticks.htm

    I guess they don’t approve of freedom of speech?

    Help me, Bill, their attacking my widdle rewigion again!

  23. Jim Wynne says

    From the linked “Recovering Dissident Catholic” review:

    Unfortunately, this play perpetuates the stereotypes that most anti-Catholics and non-Catholics have of Catholics. It makes Catholics look like a bunch of bozos who genuflect, overly vest, kiss rings, cross themselves, kneel, grab Crucifixes and Rosary’s like a bunch of superstitious yahoos.

    In other words, it’s an accurate portayal.

  24. Mooser says

    coincides with the last day of classes before spring break and my birthday).

    Ah-ha! Hosted by your own pet! I thought atheists didn’t believe in “birthdays”!

    Next you’ll tell us you put your teeth under the pillow every night!

  25. says

    Jim W– That’s pretty much what I said in my comment at her site. And then she thanked me for “making her point”… whatever that was.

  26. Hank Fox says

    Here we’ve been living among Catholics all this time, and considering them reasonable members of our society.

    But really, maybe it’s only because we live in a society where the level of craziness-acceptance is so high that almost ANYTHING seems normal.

    Think about this: The Waco group only made the news after the armed standoff started. Jim Jones’s cult only made the news after the mass suicide. The Heaven’s Gate group only made the news after the bodies were discovered.

    The batshiat craziness was there all along, but all these people seemed normal – completely and totally socially acceptable – right up to the moment when the violence and death started.

    No, nobody’s getting killed here, but … there is something socially disturbing, and surprisingly revealing, in this.

    Personally, I consider all religion to be a form of mental illness. It can be anywhere from mild and innocuous (my beloved grandmother had it, and she was a wonderful person) to purely insane (Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Herff Applewhite – but also Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammie Faye Bakker, Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Ted Haggard, Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden, etc.)

    Imagine a slow social movement toward greater sanity, toward rising tolerance for reason. Who will be its greatest enemies?

    You got it.

    Some people, you don’t have to attack them to become their enemies. If the neighbor-lady is used to coming into your house in the middle of the day to borrow butter and spices, and one day you start locking the door, suddenly it’s YOU who have done something hateful and offensive. Suddenly it’s YOU who owe HER an explanation.

    If you take the social, rational high ground and seek to shape society into a place where every individual has progressively greater personal sovereignty – not the power to rule over other people, but only to be more and more free of their impositions – you’re always going to make enemies of the imposers.

    Bully for University President Robert Bruininks!

  27. BlazingDragon says

    On a somewhat related note, my wife and a friend were walking through a strip mall on our way back from dinner last night when we were accosted by two suit-wearing people who introduced themselves by saying “Ever talk to missionaries before?” My friend is a hard-core atheist… and said “Hi, I’m an atheist.” I walked away laughing out loud as he set them straight… Must have been very disturbing to those mormon missionaries.

    I couldn’t believe they pushed their way into our faces like they did… it was quite rude… of course, they got a lot more than they bargained for in my friend (I’m not that demonstrative) :)

  28. says

    From the STrib review: Indeed, once we cut through the thicket of farce, the pope emerges a martyr for his embrace of the poor and dispossessed.

    *Sigh* Yep, just as with The Last Temptation of Christ or Hail Mary, it sounds like this play is ultimately reverential and pro-religion, and the believers are protesting it!

    What are those objections being aimed at Richard Dawkins, again? That he “doesn’t really understand” theology? He understands it–it’s too many of the believers who don’t.

  29. Anton Mates says

    “Imagine an anti-Semitic play, written by a Hitlerian, being performed at the University of Minnesota. Imagine, too, that Jews complain and the president of the university justifies the play on free speech grounds. Imagine, as well, that the play is defended by non-Jewish professors in charge of the production. Now really let your imagination run: bowing to pressure from Jews, a panel discussion on the play is scheduled, but no one from the Jewish community is invited to participate. Well, exactly this has happened, except that it’s not Jews who are being assaulted by the University of Minnesota–it’s Catholics.

    Of course, that would never happen with Jews, because they control the world.

  30. wrg says

    I guess they don’t approve of freedom of speech?

    I guess not. Here’s a link to an article that describes “Christianity on the firing line during Lent”, where the Liberal Media dare to “call into serious question the core beliefs of Christianity”. We’re told that “no other religion is subjected to such scrutiny and none has its central tenets questioned during its holy days.” I guess the Catholic League is used to discussions of “other religions” that are limited to saying that, while we would never want to discriminate against them, of course those other religions are wrong and Christ is Lord amen.

    http://www.catholicleague.org/linked%20docs/christianity_targeted_Lent.htm

    Even if other religions aren’t challenged so thoroughly in America, that may be because there aren’t as many influential proponents of those religions busily trying to remake the state and even our idea of science according to their whims. There’s more than enough reason to examine Christianity especially critically.

    Naturally, the Catholic League doesn’t seem to approve of thinking, either.

    On March 28 (Easter Monday), Newsweek ran a lengthy piece by Jon Meacham called “From Jesus to Christ” that was quite good. But even in this article, the reader is asked to ponder, “How much of this is remembered history, and how much heartfelt but unhistorical theology? It is impossible to say.”

    The reader is asked to ponder? Heavens no! Anything but that!

    If I read the piece right, the non-indoctrinated population is expected to believe the literal resurrection story, ascending to Heaven and all. Or maybe the expectation is that the general population will be Christian, and therefore will accept that the story must be believed on pain of damnation.

    I have to wonder if the claim that Catholic doctrine isn’t political is based on a notion that divine law transcends the law of man, even if this supposedly divine law often seems to end up with some man telling you what to do and what not to do. On the other hand, rather than risk creating a strawman, perhaps I should apply Occam’s razor to assume that these people haven’t really thought about what they’re saying. I doubt that’d be out of character.

  31. Volvox says

    I went to the University of Minnesota’s production of “The Pope and the Witch” last night and stayed for the scheduled discussion where the director and some faculty members responded to audience questions or statements. It was a great evening at the theater, the University student cast were impressive, both on stage and with comments during the after play discussion.

    The play was a comedy about heavy issues (too many hungry third world children resulting from the church’s ban on contraception for example) and the Pope’s human concerns coming out as psychosomatic illness (he couldn’t lower his arms at one point) just as he needed to speak to reporters. There was also a mock attack by thousands of third world orphans gathered below the Pope’s window in St. Peters Square

    The physical comedy requiring timing not only of the lines but the action. My favorite was a frustrated Pope throwing his reading glasses in the air, a nun suddenly appearing on stage, catching the glasses in mid air and zipping offstage even before the audience starts to laugh. We also saw laughed at the ill Pope getting music and massage therapy while lying face down on a swinging chandelier.

    As the play progress the Pope acquires new understanding and sympathy for society’s cast off people, and we, the audience, were also becoming aware.

    After the play at least two thirds of the audience from this sold out night stayed for the discussion. It started with statements from Professors adding historical depth, the Pope was criticized fiercely and heavily in the Middle Ages, especially when he became involved in strictly political events. Another professor spoke of his good personal history with the Catholic Church and controversial plays.

    I think play director Robert Rosen was going to add some remarks but he was interrupted by an audience member who wanted his turn and Director Rosen graciously gave him the microphone. The audience, I think, had mixed thoughts on this exchange. It was rude but this late event had been billed as a discussion with audience participation, not the mini lecture series we had seen to this point.

    The first audience member had, I thought, a generic mixed bag of complaints; the U of MN claims “free speech and ideas” but has systemic intolerance of conservatives. Part of his evidence, as I understood him, was the good reception that Anita Hill (Clarence Thomas hearings fame) got at the University. He branched out into some confusing statistics that seemed to correlate contraception and abortion with increased numbers of children. Basically, these were statements, not an invitation for discussion.
    As he finished, I was really impressed by the class of the U of MN students from the play: the audience, led by these students, clapped for his comments. This set the tone of the discussion, say whatever you want, maybe get some negative feedback but, at the end, applause for standing up and speaking.

    A self-described “devout Catholic” didn’t care for the plays contents but he agreed the problems presented were real. He got a hand for saying the “the church has been trying to make abortion and contraception unnecessary”. A retired U of MN Professor (emeritus for 20 years) thought the play was an attack on the church. Also, as others had said, he added the U wouldn’t do this kind of play about Jews, homosexuals, Muslems among others.

    A self-described “66-year Catholic guy” described the play as “powerful and pertinent”. He is involved with Haiti and could see the third world connections author Dario Fo was making in the play. A couple student actors praised the play for its message, one noting that, while not Catholic, he was religious and thought the play was good. He did puzzle the audience by mentioning that he went to Catholic Mass on Sundays even though he wasn’t of the faith. Further question got a typical student answer: The Catholic Church was the closest one to his apartment so he could sleep later on Sunday Mornings.

    A woman stood up, announced that she had been a member of a religious order for nun for 53 years and said, “I laughed so hard” and “for me, it was a wonderful experience”.

    Director Robert Rosen said, at one point something like “this isn’t the best play I’ve directed but it was a thirty year career high getting the response from the community”.
    The Discussion Session was a good part of that response, people were heard, their opinions were thoughtfully considered and the applause for participation started by the studentss with the first speaker, went through the evening.

    Way to go cast, artistic team and production team of “The Pope and the Witch”, you produced a controversial work to get us thinking and it worked. Major kudos for the discussion that was a respectful exchange, perhaps it wouldn’t make good confrontational T V, but, as an audience, we walked out of the Rarig Center smarter than we wandered in.