Two weeks ago, the president of Providence College banned “The Vagina Monologues” from campus. Last week, the University of Notre Dame signaled that it is about to do the same. The presidents of numerous other Catholic colleges and universities – including leading Jesuit institutions like Marquette University, Loyola University of New Orleans and Wheeling Jesuit University – have halted the “Monologues” in the recent past.

The piece is scheduled to be performed this February at Georgetown, nonetheless.

The number of performances on Catholic campuses in the United States has declined steadily each year, from 32 in 2003, to 29 in 2004, to 27 last year. Although the sponsoring V-Day organization announced 32 Catholic campus performances in 2006, eight have already been canceled, with more cancellations expected.

Why not at Georgetown?

No doubt there was a time when students thought that getting away with a play in which young actresses recount “their” experiences with sexual encounters, lesbian activity and masturbation was adventurous and exciting. Even if student organizers failed to recognize how morally offensive the play’s content truly is, they knew the play would “shake things up.” Perhaps the most naive organizers thought this would bring attention to the worthy cause of women’s safety from violence and other abuse – and not just serve the prurient interests of students obsessed with all things sexual.

Today, however, the play’s organizers can hardly be described as rebels with a cause. There is nothing radical about presenting a play that even the officials of a Jesuit Catholic institution have condoned. It’s offensive and sexually explicit, to be sure, but this year’s production probably elicits as many yawns and rolls of the eye as it does whoops and hollers. As for the cause, consider whether after several years of “Monologues” productions, has Georgetown experienced a dramatic change in the way men and women relate? If not, why haven’t the play’s organizers found better (and more respectful) ways of getting their point across?

The more perplexing question is why Georgetown officials still don’t see what is terribly wrong with “The Vagina onologues.” With all the meetings of Catholic higher education officials and bishops, the Jesuits’ growing emphasis on Catholic identity and the Vatican’s insistence on renewal, it’s difficult to acknowledge any real progress at Georgetown if the “Monologues” continues to be a celebrated annual event.

Fr. Brian Shanley, president of Providence College, gets it. His announcement banning the “Monologues,” posted on his university’s Web site, is one of the best arguments for why the play is “not appropriate for a school with our mission.”

“First, far from celebrating the complexity and mystery of female sexuality, `The Vagina Monologues’ simplifies and demystifies it by reducing it to the vagina,” Shanley wrote. “Second, the description of the play as a `new Bible’ is an indication that its depiction of female sexuality is meant to displace the traditional Biblical view that inspires the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.”

In no way opposing the cause of combating violence against women, Shanley has pledged his full support – likely even monetary and other resources from the college – to efforts that advance the cause without undermining Providence College’s Catholic mission. Why can’t Georgetown do the same? Indeed, while Georgetown’s officials wink and nod at students producing the “Monologues,” are they content that serious concerns like date rape are adequately confronted at the university?

Outside the insulated world of Georgetown’s campus, the trend is clear. The president of the University of Portland banned the “Monologues,” describing it as “offensive, questionable in its portrayal of violence and not in keeping with the respect accorded the human body in this institution’s religious tradition.”

In recent years, officials at more than a dozen universities have explicitly refused to allow campus productions. At Fordham University, a performance was canceled after Student Affairs officials refused to support it.

About 90 percent of America’s Catholic colleges and universities shun the “Monologues,” and more join the list every year. They realize that a play that extols the seduction of an intoxicated, underage girl as her “politically incorrect salvation” that lifted her vagina “into a kind of heaven” is hardly an effective antidote to sexual and other abuse of women. Far more effective is Christian charity, teaching the virtues modeled by centuries of saints and both explicit and implicit invitations to sexual purity.

If students want to be rebellious and countercultural at Georgetown today, the word “chastity” is likely to elicit a better reaction than “vagina.”

Patrick Reilly is president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization that promotes Catholic values in higher education.

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