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27 Spotlight Right: In Defense of the Catholic Church, an Open Letter to John Patrick Shanley

Thursday, February 14, 2013

In Defense of the Catholic Church, an Open Letter to John Patrick Shanley

Dear Mr. Shanley,

I felt compelled to let you know how offensive I found your Op Ed piece in the New York Times calling for the demise of the Catholic Church, should it not conform to your ideas about the equal treatment of men and women.  You say that as currently constituted my religion deserves it fate, which you describe as doom.  You did not call for the demise of all religion, or even all religions that deny full participatory rights to women, of which there are many.  Instead, you focused all of your ire on the Catholic Church, of which you were once a member.  You argue that the scandals, misogyny and mismanagement of the Church ought to consign it to the dustbin of history, should it fail to change.  You fail to mention a few other things though, things like Catholic Charities, Catholic missionaries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, affordable pre K, grief counseling, and weekly free opportunities for people to share time with members of their communities.  So I’m curious, should the Church in fact meet, what you believe to be its deserved fate, who is going to pick up that slack?

Are you, Mr.Shanley, going to devote yourself to serving the world’s poor?  Will you get on the phone with your wealthy Hollywood buddies and mobilize money and action?  Will you provide community centers to replace the churches where communities come together?  Because I have to tell you, when I go to Church I sit next to homeless and poor people as well as wealthy professionals, when I go to one of your plays on Broadway, I walk past the homeless on the street, and they are not invited inside to hear whatever wisdom your words contain.  Will you provide inexpensive private schools like the ones you attended?  Were your parents able to afford Protestant and nonsectarian prep schools like Collegiate and Trinity?  I know I can’t afford them for my kid, but I can afford Catholic school, where do you suggest I send him once the Church shuffles off this mortal coil?  Will you go to hospices and comfort the dying and their families?

If you do not have good answers to the above questions Mr. Shanley, I suggest you get some before you start condemning the Catholic Church to its doom.  

Finally, I was so impressed by your passion for ensuring that institutions maintain equal participation by women in leadership roles, that I looked into your track record, certain it would be a paradigm of inclusion.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that of the New York premieres of your last 10 plays, dating back to 1998, not a single one was directed by a woman.  How can this be?  Why do you think its important that women be ordained as priests when you clearly don’t care if they get to direct your plays?  Did you even ask?  Did you ever say to a producer “hey, its really important to me that women get to direct my plays, so how about we pick one?”  Did they say no?  I mean what is your excuse, and why shouldn’t you hold yourself to the same standard you demand of the Church?

Like all institutions, the Catholic Church has deep flaws, flaws which the Church and its members struggle with in their attempts to live in Christ’s image.  Samuel Beckett provided us with wonderful advice for our art, our lives and our institutions when he wrote, “Try again, fail again, fail better”.  We are all sinners Mr. Shanley, including the Pope.  We all fail.  I join you in hoping that my Church can fail better, much better, but I ask you to reconsider your assertion that the Church deserves doom if it does not meet your expectations of equality.  If your conscious cannot allow you to do so, then you must, at the very least, offer alternatives for the myriad of services which the Catholic Church offers to the millions upon millions of human beings whose suffering is daily ignored by those of us more focused on our own fortunes.


David Marcus


I received this very thoughtful response to my letter from Mr. Shanley.

I read your piece. I singled out the Catholic Church because the editorial had to do with that church, and not all religions. Most of my plays, as well as the film of Doubt, were PRODUCED by women. In other words, the male directors were working under the auspices of a woman. I've volunteered in soup kitchens for the Salvation Army, spent nights in homeless shelters helping out, and I come from a poor neighborhood, not a rich one. I, at this writing, contribute money to Catholic schools in New York, including the one that threw me out. And I think, shoot me, that the nuns are treated very badly, unfairly. I won't get into the rest of it. You get the drift. But I want to say that I'm sorry to have offended you. I would prefer not to have any opinion that hurt anyone's feelings. Nevertheless, it is my belief that God gave me these feelings and opinions, and that it's my responsibility to show up as a person and speak. Peace. John


At February 15, 2013 at 8:40 AM , Blogger jimmy pravasilis said...

This was a very endearing exchange. Two nice catholic boys settled a discrepancy civilly, calmly and with respect. Maybe there's something to this religious schooling after all? I know if it where two Brooklynites raised is Public school one of them would have mad the papers!!


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