This blog is a place for Notre Dame students and others to share their thoughts on Father Jenkins' forthcoming policy on academic freedom and Catholic identity at Our Lady's University.

Monday, January 30, 2006

From Just An Amateur:

University President Fr. John Jenkins' speeches on academic freedom as it relates to "The Vagina Monologues" and the "Queer Film Festival" are all the buzz on campus right now. The QFF is going under some cosmetic changes to avoid the charge that it promotes an "out and proud" agenda. A lot of the controversy was simply semantics--many people implied that the word "festival" in the title connotated some type of celebration of the films, whereas anyone who's reasonably engaged in the modern cinema knows that "festival" does not have that connotation. To avoid confusion, the label is being dropped. Fr. Jenkins has brought this up in both his talks, and I think it demonstrates that he genuinely listened to the people responsible for the festival before making up his mind. Also, work is being done to ensure a Catholic viewpoint on homosexuality is not excluded from the event. For this year, "The Vagina Monologues" will be toned back from a public, admission-charging performance into a classroom event with no tickets sold, turning it from a celebratory exercise into a critical one. It also seems evident from the speech that Jenkins will soon ban any such performance sponsored by the departments.

I think Jenkins has basically gotten things right. The problem isn't with a movie, play, or book that has themes antithetical to the Church's position on such things. If that were the case, we might as well not read Hegel in the Philosophy department or Luther in the Theology department. But there would clearly be an issue if Notre Dame sponsored a reading of Luther under the heading, "Luther Was Right, The Church Was Wrong." This was the case with both of the above events, and it appears as though Fr. Jenkins, through dialogue and action, has basically removed this obstacle. Again, the problem isn't the works in question or their subject matter (subject matter, as Victor Morton has long insisted, is neutral), but the context they are being examined in. The right answer would NOT have been a complete squelching of the texts or films in question, ie censorship—I can see appropriate forums where both this play and the types of movies the film fest is showing could be sensibly discussed, and this seems to be the direction Jenkins wants to move things in. Students and faculty at a Catholic university have a special responsibility to be "in the world, but not of it," and we would be tainting our mission not to examine such works with a critical Catholic eye.

We must make sure, however, that this is followed up by a sincere attempt to ensure that the Catholic worldview is not merely shielded from official criticism, but is nurtured and promoted. Contrary to what some might think, the "Catholic eye" is not a guarantee in any classroom at Notre Dame, especially in the fine arts departments. Jenkins' speeches are a step in the right direction, but to heal the wounded Catholic culture on campus, as Fr. Robert Spitzer of Gonzaga might put it, will take significant time and effort. Catholicism cannot simply be another tool of critical discourse in a shed full of such tools. I'd also like to see more events on campus emphasizing our unique nature as a Catholic university. In our desire to look at the modern world and critique it, we must not forget to encourage and promote works that promote our ideals (how about a festival for films dealing with significant religious topics?), and not restrict ourselves to criticisms of our worldview. For a Catholic university, the lessons of faith must be the guiding light of everything it does, whether we're reading St. Thomas or Eve Ensler and whether we're watching THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST or MILLION DOLLAR BABY, and the standard by which other ideologies are judged.

Michael Gerardi
Keough Hall
Junior, Electrical Engineering

Michael is the editor of film review blog Just An Amateur.

12:34 PM


Blogger Jessica said...

Excellent, Mike!

2:50 PM  

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