BLOOMFIELD – A priest who’s well-known to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Hamden is being described as standing “tall, literally, intellectually, and spiritually,” for his position in a controversy over the continued production of the play “The Vagina Monologues” on the campus of Notre Dame University. Syndicated Catholic columnist George Weigel and columnist David Solomon in The Wall Street Journal (April 14), among others, credit Holy Cross Father Wilson Miscamble, who assisted at the Hamden parish over three semesters while researching a book, for his leadership among faculty members who are criticizing the decision by university president Holy Cross Father John Jenkins to allow continued production of the play.
Shortly after the decision was announced, Father Miscamble, a distinguished historian, wrote a public letter to Father Jenkins “to alert our faculty, colleagues and our treasured students that not all members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, to which we belong, endorse your decision.”
“Speaking for myself,” he went on, “I find the decision deeply damaging to Notre Dame and its mission as a Catholic university. It is a decision that I beg you to reconsider and to reverse.”
News of Father Miscamble’s response traveled quickly and spread on Web sites and blogs, indicating both that this debate is about far more than one controversial play and unlikely to go away any time soon.
Father Jenkins’s decision followed months of impassioned debate on the campus and beyond. Many expected Father Jenkins, who is in his first year at Notre Dame, to ban “The Vagina Monologues” and a film festival focusing on homosexual themes after he gave speeches in January in which he questioned whether they were “instances of events which appear to imply endorsement of views that are in conflict with fundamental values of Notre Dame as a Catholic university.”
In what he called his “Closing Statement on Academic Freedom and Catholic Character,”
Father Jenkins called for future performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” a controversial play that explicitly discusses women’s sexuality, to be followed by panel discussions about Catholic teaching on human sexuality.
Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., quickly made it obvious that the issue is not closed. He responded, saying he was “deeply saddened by the decision.”
Father Miscamble said in his letter that when Father Jenkins was appointed president of Notre Dame, there was hope that he would “reverse the attenuation and drift in our Catholic mission that characterized our recent past.”
His letter makes it clear that many view Father Jenkins’s decision as a “backing down.”
“You were called to be courageous and you settled for being popular. This is not your best self. This is not genuine leadership,” he wrote.
In a telephone interview with The Transcript, Father Miscamble said the primary issue is not academic freedom, but standards.
“Every institution maintains standards of some sort. I want us to abide by the standard that John Jenkins put forth in his own statement: that things that are egregiously offensive to the Catholic faith should not get this privileged opportunity to present themselves here,” he said. “And the adding on of some kind of panel discussion afterwards hardly seems to me an appropriate way in which we’re going to engage or contest those kinds of views.”
Father Miscamble was quick to say on the phone that he supports academic freedom, but not to the extent that has been afforded “The Vagina Monologues” on the campus over the past five years.
Since his open letter, a number of others have spoken out strongly for or against the decision, he said.
“I don’t see any quick resolution of this .... There are sizable numbers of alumni who worry about what his decision means for the future direction of Notre Dame,” he said.
“I think there are quite a number of folks who understand that this decision is larger than the decision in its own right, that it points us in a very unfortunate direction, where we don’t determine our own identity, we con-form ourselves to our secular peers,” he said.
Father Miscamble, who is from Australia, spent time in the New Haven area while doing research at Yale. He lived with the Holy Cross community in New Haven – and helped out on weekends at Our Lady of Mount Carmel – for a semester in the mid-to late-1990’s. He returned for the entire academic year in 2004-05.
While the faithful at Our Lady of Mount Carmel know and embrace him for his approachable, self-deprecating style, sense of humor, humility and abilities as a homilist, Father Miscamble is much more.
He has received a variety of academic prizes and awards, including the 2001 Sheedy Award for Excellence in Teaching in the College of Arts and Letters. He is a former rector of Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame.
His book, George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, was published in 1992 and was the recipient of the Harry S. Truman Book Award. He also has authored Keeping the Faith, Making a Difference (2000).
His next book, Roosevelt to Truman: Pottsdam, Hiroshima and the Cold War, will be published in the fall by Cambridge University Press.