Gonzaga University

While Vatican Meets, Catholic Colleges Celebrate Sexual Abuse

Even while the Vatican meets to address sexual abuse by Catholic priests, students at U.S. Catholic colleges will stage theatrical performances that glorify—with explicitly religious language—an adult’s creepy and manipulative seduction of a 16-year-old.

It’s an outrage, especially given the similarity of the play to the abuse of young boys and men, and in some cases girls, by many Catholic priests. Yet Catholic colleges have repeated this celebration of sexual abuse and perversion for 20 years.

Will any Catholic college leader apologize for The Vagina Monologues? Every year, just as the Church approaches the holy season of Lent, Catholic college students—and the faculty departments and college leaders who enable their performances—continue to perform this play and dance on the broken souls of sexual abuse victims.

I am proud that The Cardinal Newman Society has led the fight against The Vagina Monologues on Catholic campuses. Shame on those who have allowed and even defended it!

Every spring, usually around Saint Valentine’s Day, colleges nationwide host the Monologues, a vile play in which a character reminisces happily about her own sexual abuse while a troubled 16-year-old. She recalls how a 24-year-old woman plied her with alcohol then had sexual relations with her. But instead of condemning the act, the victim declares the rape her “salvation” that “raised her into a kind of heaven”—a claim that glorifies homosexual predation.

This resembles many of the crimes involving Catholic priests. And we know from victims’ testimony the severe harm and anguish—not heavenly bliss!—that is caused by such abuse.

Moreover, the age of consent for sexual activity is 17 or 18 in 20 states, which means The Vagina Monologues promotes statutory rape. The play originally had the girl at 13 years old, stating defiantly, “If it was a rape, it was a good rape.” The playwright, Eve Ensler, later dropped the line admitting rape and changed the character’s age to 16 to match the legal age of consent for sexual activity in many states. Still, the play clearly describes a rape.

At Least Eight Colleges This Year

Performances of the Monologues at Catholic colleges began in 1999 and peaked at 32 campuses in 2003, according to the Newman Society’s annual tally. Thankfully, the number has declined as the novelty of the play for students has diminished and Catholic leaders have condemned the play.

One of the most forceful critiques was published in 2008 by former Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who opposed performances at the University of Notre Dame:

While claiming to deplore violence against women, the play at the same time violates the standards of decency and morality that safeguard a woman’s dignity and protect her, body and soul, from sexual predators… The play depicts, exalts and endorses female masturbation, which is a sin. It depicts, exalts, and endorses a sexual relationship between an adult woman and a child, a minor, which is a sin and also a crime. It depicts and exalts the most base form of sexual relationship between a man and a woman. These illicit sexual actions are portrayed as paths to healing, and the implication is that the historic, positive understanding of heterosexual marriage as the norm is what we must recover from.

But still today—even amid the worsening crisis of clergy abuse and cover-up, implicating even the most prominent bishops—some Catholic colleges persist in the scandal of hosting and even sponsoring The Vagina Monologues. Two colleges will brazenly host the play at the same time that the Vatican holds its conference on sex abuse from Feb. 21-Feb. 24.

The Newman Society has confirmed performances on eight Catholic campuses, with others likely. Confirmed performances include:

  • Boston College (Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts): The Vagina Monologues is on the public events calendar of the Jesuit College’s Robsham Theater Arts Center for Valentine’s Day, with repeat performances on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15 and 16.
  • College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts): According to the Facebook page of the Feminist Forum, a Monologues performance is scheduled on the Jesuit college campus on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
  • DePaul University (Chicago, Illinois): The Vincentian university hosted its 20th annual production of the Monologues with four on-campus performances between Feb. 7 and Feb. 10.
  • Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington): The Jesuit university’s performance of the Monologues—open to the public for the first time—is scheduled for Valentine’s Day. It is sponsored by the Theatre and Dance Department.
  • Holy Names University (Oakland, California): By email to the Newman Society, the organizer of several “information sessions” about The Vagina Monologues confirmed that a public performance is scheduled on Thursday, Feb. 21, at the College’s Valley Center for Performing Arts. The College is affiliated with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus.
  • Loyola University Maryland (Baltimore, Maryland): Sponsored by the Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, the Monologues will be performed on the Jesuit university’s campus on Valentine’s Day and Friday, Feb. 15.
  • Regis College (Weston, Mass.): The College sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph will host the Monologues on campus on Friday, Feb. 22, and Saturday, Feb. 23.
  • Xavier University (Cincinnati, Ohio): The Monologues will be performed on Saturday, March 2—the last weekend before Lent begins—at the Jesuit university. It will be sponsored by the Theatre Department.

In addition, according to a student Facebook page, auditions for the Monologues were held at the Jesuit Loyola University of Chicago on Feb. 6 and 7. No performance date was announced.

On its website, V-Day also claims that performances are scheduled at three other Catholic colleges which could not be verified. In an email to the Newman Society on Monday, a Merrimack College spokesman said that he is unaware of any plans for a performance, despite campus performances in prior years and a V-Day announcement indicating that proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood Boston.

Gonzaga Doubles Down

Perhaps the most astonishing of this year’s performances of The Vagina Monologues is that at Gonzaga University.

In 2002, when most Catholics first became aware of the sexual abuse cover-ups in the Archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere, Gonzaga’s Jesuit president rightly banned the play from campus. Father Robert Spitzer, S.J., was especially offended by the play’s celebration of rape. He said that the play is opposed to the “Catholic and Christian view of marriage.”

That ban was reversed in 2011 by Father Spitzer’s successor, Thayne McCulloh, who remains president of Gonzaga today. The 2011 performance was sponsored by the English Department, Honors Program, Institute for Hate Studies, Sociology Department, and Women and Gender Studies Program.

But the Monologues did not return to Gonzaga until this year—of all years, given the new revelations of sex abuse and cover-up. Moreover, this will be the very first time that Gonzaga invites the public to share in its celebration of sexual abuse and perversity, with the official sponsorship of the university’s Theatre and Dance Department.

The Vagina Monologues are powerful for the voices they give to so many people who are usually silenced by society,” Leslie Stamoolis, assistant professor of theater and dance and director of the play, told The Gonzaga Bulletin. “And telling those stories, in those voices, gives power to the narratives — it reminds us all that these stories matter, and in fact every woman’s story matters.”

Except, apparently, for the agonizing testimony of those women and men who have been victimized by sexual abuse—whose hellish ordeal is declared by Gonzaga to be their “salvation.” The crimes of some priests and the failure of bishops to disclose the crimes is appalling. But when Catholic students parade sexual perversion and abuse onstage in the midst of this crisis, the crimes are compounded. And the complicity of academic leaders and their blindness to the harm perpetuated by The Vagina Monologues is indefensible.

This article was first published at the National Catholic Register.

Copyright © 2024 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.