There have been some occasions that I have read about, over the last few years, where Catholic universities have been disparaged because they have hosted performances of a play called The Vagina Monologues. The very title of the play, of course, says that it’s about sex and probably pushes the limits of good taste. I have never seen it, nor read the book on which it is based so I don’t know the graphic specifics of the content.
The most recent example is that Gonzaga University is hosting a performance of the play. The charge of outrage on Catholic blogs seems to be lead by a faculty member at Gonzaga named Dr. Eric Cunningham who, like Notre Dame’s own Dr. Charles Rice, has a lot of problems with the supposed “Catholicity” of his employer yet has no problem continuing to accept a paycheck.
There are two concepts that are peculiar to the Catholic Church that are involved with the current uproar. One is the Magisterium, the official teaching body of the Church, led by the Pope and comprised of the world’s Catholic Bishops. The Magisterium, either extraordinary (acting as a group as in an Ecumenical Council) or ordinary (acting as individual Bishops) is the only means by which Church teaching can be officially promulgated. The rest is just opinion. No Catholic layperson, or even a member of the vocations who is not a Bishop, can claim to authoritatively put forth Church teaching or claim to authoritatively speak on Church teaching or belief.
The other concept is that of the Catholic university. There have been numerous writings about what constitutes a true Catholic school, as universities are not, generally, connected to and operated by a diocese or parish as high schools and elementary schools are. My school is, for example, operated by an independent Board of Directors and has always been run by the Congregation of Holy Cross (priests with a C.S.C. after their names); the archbishop of Ft. Wayne has some influence but no official capacity to tell the school what to do. What he can do, hypothetically, is say the school can no longer call itself Catholic. But, in that the word Catholic is not copyrighted, there is no real meaning to that power.
So how do these two things connect? The hysteria of the fake Magisterium, those who have appointed themselves as arbiters of who and what is really Catholic, over The Vagina Monologues is just the most recent example of how Catholic laypersons use universities not to further the goals of the Church, but to further their own personal agendas, be they economic or political. Catholic universities, like any other, exist to educate. A large portion of education is a free discussion of ideas, even many that we may find offensive. The common reason the fake Magisterium uses to decree Catholic schools as no longer Catholic is that a play such as The Vagina Monologues is harmful to the faith and conscience formation of college students like me. Of course if they were truly concerned, they would say Catholic schools aren’t Catholic if they don’t demand their students refrain from watching graphic sexual movies, or TV shows, or listen to music with sexual themes. But the reason the fake Magisterium gets so (fake) upset about this play is that the name catches attention. We don’t often hear the word vagina, a clinical term, in polite conversation. Rename the play The Girl Monologues and no one notices that it even exists. Make Barack Obama a pro-choice Republican and no one cares that he speaks at Notre Dame’s graduation.
If Dr. Cunningham truly thought that Gonzaga was no longer Catholic, he–apparently being a pillar of the faith–would no longer be materially complicit in Gonzaga’s failings by accepting financial gain. Think of it like an observant Catholic working at Planned Parenthood. The Ignatius Press blog publishes him to make money: selling books and getting ad revenue from the blog. The Magisterium, on the other hand, has no economic nor political interest in anything they teach. They don’t make money off blogs or get paid based on who stays in the Church or who doesn’t. Mostly, they just don’t get paid. The chances of any one of them moving to a position more authoritative than the one they are in is about one in a million since the only chance at promotion for any Bishop is to get fitted for the Ring of the Fisherman.
There is a reason that Jesus put Church authority in the hands of a few and made them leave their possessions and families behind. There’s probably also a reason He didn’t give them the internet and blogs (he could have!).