The Pope and the Witch

News is getting around that my "Alma" Mater, the University of Minnesota Theatre Department will be going ahead with a production of the execrable Dario Fo’s anti-Catholic play The Pope and the Witch.

This play is pretty vile. The Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Most Rev. Harry Flynn, protested loudly in the local paper which Minnesotans often call "The Star and Sickle" (Star/Tribune).

We must not allow ourselves to be driven from the public square by anti-Catholic bigotry.

Many are protesting the play. One site of TFP has a form you can sign and sent comments on.

This is my open comment.

To Mr. Robert H. Bruininks
President of the University of Minnesota
CC: Theatre department

1) I have lived in Rome for many years. I have read Dario Fo. It astonishes me that anyone would waste time on a production of his work.

2) I am a graduate of the University of Minnesota. I have a B.A. in THEATRE, i.e., from your U. of M. Theatre Department.

3) I am a Catholic. In fact, I am a Catholic priest.

Therefore, I believe I am fairly well-informed about the issues involved in the matter of The Pope and the Witch.

4) I now wonder how a land-grant institution, paid for by TAXPAYERS in Minnesota, can tolerate this choice, to so single out members of the Catholic Church for scheduled and then repeated insult and ridicule.

Taxpayers will be footing the bill for a scheduled and then repeated offense to Catholics.

You bear part of the responsibility.

Therefore, I respectfully suggest you might report yourself to your own Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. That office’s webpage (http://www.eoaffact.umn.edu/biasreporting.html) has the following:

"PLEASE LET US KNOW if you, someone you know, or a group within our university community, has experienced bias, discrimination or hostility. We are concerned about incidents based on race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, gender identification, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status and/or sexual orientation. The University of Minnesota is ready and willing to provide support, and address disrespectful bias and discrimination within our community. We need to know what happens and how often, so that we can respond and help those who are targeted. By reporting incidents, you become part of the solution."

Simply attaching a schedule of the Theater Department’s season will indicate the religious dimension of the violation of your University’s policies as well as the where, by whom, and how often.

Kindly take action in this matter. It would be the right thing to do and you would be "part of the solution".

Fr. John T. Zuhlsdorf
Rome

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34 Responses to The Pope and the Witch

  1. Father: I am overjoyed that you have joined the fight against this “play”.
    You have a few (ha-ha) more readers then I do.

    Several local (Minneapolis/St. Paul) bloggers have been protesting the U’s
    plan to stage this play since last Fall.

    I have read Fo too. I plan to be at the “thing” on opening night because
    at this point it looks like it will go on. I will be praying the Rosary
    during the entire “event”.

  2. Father,

    That’s a wonderful letter. Remind me never to get on your wrong side!

  3. TJM says:

    Dear Father Z: I loved the way you used a liberal tool,
    their own EOAA, as a weapon. These are left wing loons.
    They will never see the hypocrisy. Regards, Tom.

  4. RBrown says:

    Good letter.

    But in a way I am glad that UM is promoting such crud, as I am that the secular culture is pushing homosexual unions. Secular culture in general and secular universities in particular have long been virulent enemies of Christ and His Church. For years these wolves tried to hide in sheep’s clothing, but now they’ve removed the garment. More and more they are out in the open–or should I say out of the closet.

    The Church has suffered serious damage in its attempt at detente with secular culture. Christ commands us to love our enemies–not to pretend that they are our friends.

  5. John V says:

    Father Z.

    Please do keep us informed of President Bruininks’s response (or lack thereof).

  6. P.Bunyan says:

    But does the University’s policy on bias incidents really apply
    here? The policy is designed to protect individuals who
    experience discrimination based upon religion, race, etc. —
    it doesn’t prohibit criticism of religion itself. If the mere
    criticism of religion (any religion) were against the rules,
    then they’d have to shut down the whole Philosophy Department,
    the whole Enlish Department, and maybe the entire College of
    Liberal Arts. Granted, the U wouldn’t be likely to perform a
    satire of Mohammedism, but that’t only because they’d be afraid
    to do so. Is it your contention that any criticism of Church
    teaching by a public institution is offensive, or just satirical
    jibes, or just making fun of Church personages? Would you
    consider it similarly offensive if a University professor or
    production took a swipe at atheism? Also, we would do well to
    remember the good things said about the Church by University
    faculty. I remember Professor Ames, the head of the Humanities
    Department back in the early 70s, who spent an entire quarter of
    our Renaissance Lit class extolling the glories of the Roman
    Catholic Church — he was especially fond of John of the Cross.
    I remember too the recent production of the Dialogues of the
    Carmelites by the Music Department — one of the most profound
    theatrical experiences of my life. It seems if they can censor
    critiques of the Church on campus, then they can censor others
    who take a more sympathetic approach, as well.

  7. shana sfo says:

    When I protested by email, I was sent a rather pathetic reply basically excusing the university on flimsy grounds:

    Dear Ms. Buck:

    President Bruininks asked that I thank you for taking the time to
    express your thoughts on the University of Minnesota’s staging of the play, “The Pope and the Witch,” and respond to your concerns.

    The play is written by Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo and is housed in 167 United States college and university libraries, including the Catholic University of America and the College of the Holy Cross. It has been performed over the past 11 years in a number of higher education venues including the University of Denver in 1995, Yale University in 1997,and the University of New Mexico in 2000. It is just one of five plays being produced as part of the University of Minnesota’s 2006-07 theatre season. Theatre department faculty have carefully designed this year’s season to engage students in exploring how very different plays resonate with current historical moments, to provide students with exposure to a number of theatrical techniques, such as comedy, satire, physicality, and farce, and to challenge audiences to think about fundamental issues that affect the human condition.

    Academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas are the hallmarks of
    higher education. The University of Minnesota hosts hundreds of events each year that are intended to promote dialogue and discussion on a wide range of opinions and viewpoints, and we have never shied away from controversy. It is in the nature of vibrant intellectual discussion and artistic expression that not everyone will have the same response or opinion, yet an academic institution that ended a discussion because people disagree with the views expressed would be neglecting its mission
    and the pursuit of higher education.

    The University is also sensitive to and appreciative of the feelings and views of individuals who object to the play’s staging. President
    Bruininks and Provost E. Thomas Sullivan had a cordial and productive meeting with Archbishop Flynn in late October to discuss this issue.

    Plans are currently underway to engage the community in a discussion of the play and the issues it presents. “Talkbacks,” an integral part of the University Theatre Season, are public discussions hosted and facilitated by the theatre department about each University theatre production. They are intended to encourage dialogue about the play, and to familiarize diverse audiences with the play’s production history, theatre historiography, specific issues raised by multiple aesthetic and cultural perspectives, and different social and political contexts that inform theatre and dance. The talkback for “The Pope and the Witch” will follow the play’s performance on March 8th.

    Thank you again for sharing your concerns with the University of Minnesota.

    Sincerely,
    Steven Rosenstone
    Dean
    College of Liberal Arts

    My reply:

    Dear Mr Rosenstone and President Bruininks:

    So what you are saying is that if some anti-Catholic schlep has a “Nobel Prize” and writes a piece of bigoted tripe, and some universities that are barely even Catholic any more put it on, your university should perform it in the name of ‘academic freedom’? What, if the dean of Holy Cross wants to jump off a bridge, you’re going to jump too?

    Would you put this play on exchanging the fabled 12th Imam or the Ayatolla Khomeini or the Prophet Mohammed and Mohammed’s daughter Fatima as a whore in place of the Pope and the witch? Put Bill and Hillary Clinton in place of the Pope and the witch? Put your own father and mother in place of the Pope and the witch? Doubt it highly. These would be deemed ‘offensive’ and lectures would be given on how we must ‘create a safe environment’ for all students. Except Catholics. They don’t have feelings and won’t burn our university to the ground (or with hold funding or sic the IRS on us) so its OK to offend them.

    Bigotry is bigotry no matter how you want to guise it as ‘academic freedom’. With freedom, sir, comes responsibility, but I should know better than to expect any level of adult responsibility to come from the small and narrow minds of the ivory towers of academia.

    Sorry, your pathetic little excuses don’t fly in the real world.

    Sincerely,

    Shana M Buck

  8. Raphaela says:

    Bravo, Father! And bravo Shana too!

  9. P.Bunyan: But does the University’s policy on bias incidents really apply
    here?

    Yes.

  10. Zadok: Remind me never to get on your wrong side!

    That’s up to you, my friend! o{];¬)

  11. Ray from MN says:

    The letter that Shana Buck received from Dean Rosenstone of the College of Liberal Arts is essentially the same as those written by President Bruininks to other people, including alumni and Catholics who have been major donors to the University over the years.

    They were obviously crafted by the same person in the University’s Public Relations department.

    I find the following sentence rather interesting as it was used in all of the letters that I was able to read:

    “The play is written by Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo and is housed in 167 United States college and university libraries, including the Catholic University of America and the College of the Holy Cross.”

    Notice that the sentence states that the play has been “housed” in 167 libraries. Not that it has been performed.

    While I did not do an exhaustive study into how often this play has been performed in the last ten years, it is unlikely that it has been more than a dozen times in the United States: once in an off-Broadway presentation; once in an Albany civic theater and several times in various college theater departments.

    I’m sure 157 or more of those libraries got their copies of TP&TW at used book sales or as part of package deals. TP&TW was NOT the reason Fo got a Nobel Prize.

    Note that the University of Minnesota’s schedule allows for it to have only seven performances.

    The play is a bomb, to be frank. It is not funny, and even worse it is extremely dated with references to Panama’s former dictator, Manuel Noriega, now a U.S. prisoner and other personalities of the 1980s.

    To be honest, I expect that actors who are really good at physical comedy (such as Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers) might be able to find humor in what Fo has written. But if they’re not good, there will be a lot of silence in that theater.

    It is interesting that if the Theater Department was looking for a vehicle to demonstrate physical humor that they chose an “anti-Catholic” play.

  12. P.Bunyan says:

    Father Z,

    If the bias policy really does apply, who is actually being harassed/discriminated against by this play? You? Me?
    All Catholics? Speaking for myself, I don’t feel harassed
    whenever someone satirizes the pope. Do you suppose a showing
    of Elmer Gantry by the University Film Society would constitute
    harassment of all Evangelical students? Apparently so.

  13. KK says:

    I have forwarded this exchange to the Catholic League.

  14. Antonius says:

    Please inform us of the response (if any), Father. They might even report themselves for bias after all. ;)

  15. Robert says:

    Sadly you cannot win against the university administration. We had a case where a terrible play was performed in our town and the university chancellor said that because he/the university was for tolerance, he had to allow it and that by not allowing it, it would be discriminatory. He said his hands were “tied” in the matter. What a sad low our academic institutions have fallen to…

  16. P. Bunyan: f the bias policy really does apply, who is actually being harassed/discriminated against by this play? You? Me?

    Yes.

    How sad it is that you don’t seem to know that.

  17. Shana: I received back exactly the same blithering response. My response in return was:

    Dear Dean Rosenstone

    Boilerplate is lazy.

    Condescension is ugly.

    Regards,

    Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, B.A. (Theatre), et al.
    Roma

    In light of his ABSURD comment that the play was “housed” in so many libraries, including those of Catholic schools, I might make the observation…

    So, Dean Rosenstone, is Mein Kampf. That doesn’t mean that we must have public taxpayer funded dramatic readings of it.

  18. P.Bunyan says:

    Re: the resolve of the University administration in this matter,
    my bet is that they’ve bit off more than they can chew on this
    one — they live and die by their development office and the
    state legislature, and my guess is they can’t afford (literally)
    to alienate their Catholic constituents. We’ll see, but I’d be
    willing to make a wager.

  19. P. Bunyan: … my bet … I’d be willing to make a wager.

    If their development office matters then we MUST raise our voices. My blog is widely read. The paper I write for is widely read. Those who might pick this up make it more so.

    Reduce this to matters of a wager. I choose action even in the face of small odds.

    There is precedent.

  20. P.Bunyan says:

    One last comment. From here on, I’d better shut up until I’ve
    actually read the play, but I just don’t get why criticism, even satire
    harsh satire, is interpreted as harassment. What would be left
    of free expression if everyone became that thin-skinned? It
    seems that a group of conservatives, such as frequent this blog,
    would be the first to decry such p.c. hyper-sensitivity.

  21. P Bunyon: I actually read the play and commented on the text on my blog here: http://therecoveringdissidentcatholic.blogspot.com/2006/11/pope-and-witch-il-papa-e-la-strega.html

    Actually, if you do a search of my blog, I’ve posted on it numerous times. I even had an exchange with a former director of the play at Yale.

    Several of our local bloggers were quoted in the National Catholic Register about this play. Local blogger Ray from MN had an editorial on it in our Archdiocesan newspaper.

    In any case, read some of the commentary. There should not be any doubt as to why so many of us are upset.

  22. Paul says:

    P.Bunyan,

    #4 in Father’s original letter provides your answer. This is not a local, privately-funded group putting this on, it is a [b]taxpayer-funded, government school.[/b] It’s not a matter of being thin-skinned or of PC hyper-sensitivity, the slope is getting slippier everyday and the secularists are going to keep pushing. I applaud all those who have taken action and I will join the effort.

  23. itsawonderfullife says:

    Fr. Z:

    Just a thought:

    I wonder how “Joan of Arc” or “A Man for All Seasons” would fare in R. Rosen’s hands? Do you think it would be worth staying through intermission given past experience?

    Sadly, the “campaign for excellence” not only closed off opportunities to other students at the U of M, but they seem to have lost their way on the West Bank too. Sounds like they will get a new stadium though – first things first (or not).

    Maybe we could send them suggestions for a better season next year.

    Another U of M Theatre alum

  24. P.Bunyan says:

    This conversation is winding down and I might be talking to the
    air, but here is my final final word. I agree that the Church
    is considered fair game by people who would never subject other
    religious/ethnic groups to similar kinds of invective, and I
    don’t think this double standard is acceptable. Nevertheless,
    my own preferred response is not to censor discussion by
    claiming discrimination (like some of those other groups) but by
    refuting the arguments put forward by our opponents. Why aren’t
    we coming up with our own playwrights and Nobel laureates to
    advance our own agenda? This would be far more productive in the
    long run. Otherwise, here we are, once again, portraying our
    own Church as intolerant of free and open discussion. Gallileo
    et al all over again. Believe me, we’re playing right into their
    hands, as we do everytime we resort to public calls for censorship.
    This has been a fun conversation, despite the tendency of some to
    make it personal.

  25. itsawonderfullife: I wonder how “Joan of Arc” or “A Man for All Seasons” would fare in R. Rosen’s hands? Do you think it would be worth staying through intermission given past experience?

    First, if this is the same Rosen who directed the crap I saw at Theatre de la June Leune in Minneapolis, then the answer is pretty clear.

    Second, while the plays you mention by Shaw and Bolt are good plays, Dario Fo’s play is a bad play. While it would be easy to detect bad directing in the former, it could be hard to tell in the case of Fo’s rubbish whether the lousy experience you are having is because of the play or the director. That said, based on my experience of Fo and Rosen, it would be both the play and the director.

  26. Ahhhh…I’d forgotten that Mr. Rosen is one of the founders of Theatre de la
    Jeune Lune.

    If protesting the U doesn’t work, I perceive an alternate target.

  27. Jennifer says:

    As a Catholic and a theatre student at the University of Minnesota who has been involved with the production of The Pope and The Witch, I fully support the production. I have read the script of the play several times, and I find that, although it does harshly criticize the Church’s stance on abortion and birth control (but so do many Catholics I know), Dario Fo is using the Church, and specifically the Pope, as a vehicle to further broader social criticism. I find that the theme of the play is summed up quite well in the last line: Woe betide the man of power who takes the side of those who have no power. The Pope figure works particularly well to convey this idea because the Church is universal, and also because of the great power that the Church has. There are very few, if any, other officials in the world that have the power and recognition the Pope does. While I can see how some people would be offended, especially if they are staunch supporters of the Church’s beliefs about birth control etc., the play is certainly a satire not intended to belittle the Catholic church. Fo probably knew of the side effects his play would cause, and probably found them amusing, because the people who can only focus on the controversy surrounding the play will miss the real message of the play. Perhaps that is the larger satire. That said, I have not yet seen the production, as it has not yet opened. I’m sure that it is possible for the play to be skewed to convey a more anti-Catholic message, but I do not believe Bob Rosen will perform it that way. In my experiences with him as a teacher and friend, he is a very understanding, tolerant and compassionate individual, but he does love to test boundaries and try new and different things. I guess we will just have to wait and see how the production shapes up and discuss further, but I do encourage you to come see the play and hope that you will.

  28. Lee Darnell says:

    If only some catholics were more secure in their faith that they had more to do with their life than protest over small plays at a public university. And to think these people want public funding for their private schools… after this anti-intellectual bruhaha, I really don’t think so. I won’t trust my money or my kids to people who are so insecure in their faith that an obscure play at a college can shake them. How sad. Some fortress of knowlege and tower of intellect. The rhetoric sounds more like communist russia than freedom loving america. I’m waiting for the bishop to start informing on the actors in the theare.

  29. Melody says:

    In response to Jennifer: Obviously many many people have found this play offensive. From the summary of the content (provided above in Cathy’s post) the play is clearly offensive (and intended to be so by the author) to any practicing Catholic who actually happens to believe in the teachings of the Church.

    This brings me to my answer for Lee.

    What on earth do we Catholics have to put up with this? We are not shaken in our faith, rather we are standing up for our democratic rights. This play is not anything “intellectual”–it is hate speech. As Father Z eloquently pointed out, one doubts the school would fund a play dramatizing “Mein Kampf” as an “intellectual” exercise. I don’t hesitate to add that no public institution would show a play blatantly offensive to blacks, jews, muslims, buddhists, or any group but Catholics and Christians in general.
    You complain that it’s a small play at a small university, though the
    protest is mainly headed by locals and alumni of the college (among
    them Father Z). It’s very different from say, the ACLU bringing a
    lawsuit against a suburb to remove a tiny cross from their coat of
    arms.

  30. Lee Darnell says:

    I am an alumni of the university. I have no problem. As is my brother. We both have no problem. My family is catholic. We have no problem. What we do have a problem with is the church sticking it’s nose in where it does not belong. Where does intellectual freedom end? Can books only be read that are aproved by the bishop? I think you mistake the church’s role in society. It is a guidepost, but it is not above criticism or examination. Faith unexamined is not faith but rather brainwashing dogma. I have genuine faith because I have asked questions and found answers. I have found leaders who were strong enough to stand up to questioning. If the leadership of the church in Minneapolis, that semenary and the sourrounding area cannot stand questions about the ideology of the church in a time of crisis, how can they be fit to minister to anyone in any time of need? I surely wouldn’t trust them. What a bunch of weak-kneed Wizard of Oz Phonies!

  31. RBrown says:

    To Lee Darnell:

    First, the play is at a public university that uses public funds, and so anything that goes on there is a public question. And so it is appropriate that anyone offended would object–just as there would be objection to a play promoting racism or anti-semitism.

    Second, Fr Z is an alumnus (not alumni, as you say) of the of M. Like any other alumn, he is regularly asked to make a donation to his alma mater. That gives him good reason to comment.

    Third, in addition to the Church having a right to protect itself and its members, it also must comment on matters of morality. And so, it is sticking its nose in where it does belong.

    Finally, I would hope that an alumnus (not alumni) of the U of M, as you say you are, would have better than a 7th grade mastery of basic spelling and grammar.

  32. Lee Darnell says:

    First, the play is at a public university that uses public funds, and so anything that goes on there is a public question. And so it is appropriate that anyone offended would object—just as there would be objection to a play promoting racism or anti-semitism.

    So, when the church is embroiled in a scandal world-wide involving its mass-failure to protect children, it’s support of child molestors, including the shipment of said molesters to Mexico so they can continue their (ahem) service, can we kick the church off campus for promoting the same dangerous ideas that you suppose the theatre department was supporting or is it just a one way street?Oh wait, I forgot. The bishop in his lack of Wisdom already nixed the Newman Center years ago. Of course, the Newman’s were not molesting anyone, they were merely supporting educational efforts that the Bishop found troublesome because they took time away from his fascination with abortion, and focused on the unsexy ideas of third-world rights, and workers rights as it relates to Catholic ideas, Oh, and they also fed the poor, right on Campus.
    The catholic right need to make up their mind – do they want catholicism to be a supportive avenue to student growth or just another avenue for political hackery as it is here in front of Rarig Center.

  33. Lee: So, when the church is embroiled in a scandal world-wide…

    This is a red-herring. Bringing this up is entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand which is, precisely, the failure of many to see that public funding of anti-Catholic events is not acceptable.

    No one will defend priests who did wicked things. But the fact that some few priests did, and some bishops covered up for them, does not therefore make publicly funded anti-Catholic bigotry acceptable.

    The Church and her pastors have every right to make their voices heard in the public square according to the decorum required in civil discourse.

    In any event, I award you, Lee, with the prestigious Red Herring Award.

    The Red Herring Award

  34. RBrown says:

    So, when the church is embroiled in a scandal world-wide involving its mass-failure to protect children, it’s support of child molestors, including the shipment of said molesters to Mexico so they can continue their (ahem) service, can we kick the church off campus for promoting the same dangerous ideas that you suppose the theatre department was supporting or is it just a one way street?Oh wait, I forgot.

    The scandal is not world-wide. It is American arrogance to think that whatever happens here happens everywhere.

    The bishop in his lack of Wisdom already nixed the Newman Center years ago. Of course, the Newman’s were not molesting anyone, they were merely supporting educational efforts that the Bishop found troublesome because they took time away from his fascination with abortion, and focused on the unsexy ideas of third-world rights, and workers rights as it relates to Catholic ideas, Oh, and they also fed the poor, right on Campus.

    The scandals were the consequence of the liberal Catholicism that dominated priestly formation and produced homosexual priests; it also gave us bishops who tolerated those crimes.

    This is the same liberal Catholicism that reduced Catholic morality to social justice (e.g., third-world rights and workers’ rights), scoffing at personal morality and ignoring investigation of the faith.