"The Pope and the Witch": Catholic Bashing Play at Gopher Theater

We believe in free speech. But we also believe in respect for religions. People tend to think that the Twin Cities is made up mainly of scandinavian Protestants. But that is not the case. I believe the Catholic population is about 50%.

So why does a school go out of its way to insult half the people in the neighborhood? And especially today when insulting Islam via cartoons has led to violence and death?

And why allow state funds to underwrite this production?

I am in favor of free speech but I am not in favor of dumb politics and inflammatory actions. The committee that approved this play ought to be disciplined and the director who suggested it ought to be dismissed.

Here is the Star and Tribune story:

The University of Minnesota said Friday that the academic and artistic value of the satirical play "The Pope and the Witch," to be staged in March, is stronger than Catholic claims that it's blasphemous.

Italian Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo's 1989 work, one of several productions in the Department of Theatre Arts this school year, features a paranoid, drug-addled pope, a witch in nun's habit and a chaotic comedy of errors.

Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis met last week with university President Robert Bruininks to voice concerns about the play, said university spokesman Daniel Wolter.

Their talk was "a cordial meeting with a cordial outcome," said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath, who said news and blog accounts have exaggerated the controversy.

"The Pope and the Witch" has a long history of sparking protests. The New York-based Catholic League, whose president, Bill Donohue, calls the play "pure hate speech," has criticized its appearance at theaters that receive public money from the National Endowment for the Arts. Demonstrations have been held at several colleges where the play has been staged.

Colleen Perfect of St. Paul, a representative of Catholic Parents Online, said the group shares Flynn's distress over the play.

"Tolerating this type of hate is giving license to defamation," she said via e-mail. "One can only imagine what kind of upheaval would take place on campus if the U staged a play smearing Mohammed."

Wolter said the university will hold several forums next year that will offer opportunities for debate about the play.

"It's not our role to be a rigid censor; it is also not our intent to offend folks," he said. "But academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas are the hallmarks of higher education."

Director Robert Rosen said he picked the play, which was approved by a department committee, because it's "very topical, addressing issues we see in the newspaper every day -- birth control, abortion, drugs, religion and politics."Part of my job as an artist is to bring the contemporary world to the stage," he said. "A lot of people upset about this play call Fo a Communist, but in reality he managed to anger both the Communist Party and the Italian right wing."

Rosen said the play is not an attack on the Catholic faith but rather "a portrayal of the Vatican's power structure and its ability to make policy that has a worldwide effect."I welcome discussion and debate," he said. "One of the roles of theater is to put things out there for people to think and talk about."

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