If there ever was a time when the leadership of the Catholic Church – especially around these parts – could use some divine intervention, it’s probably now.
As if being in the courts over priests accused of being sexual deviates isn’t enough of a headache, add to it the furor over closing and/or consolidating elementary and high schools and for good measure, toss in the minor episodes like Villanova University canceling a workshop by an openly gay and controversial performance artist and you have one perfect storm of a PR nightmare.
The most recent bomb is the cancellation of a workshop of Tim Miller, saying his shows aren’t in keeping with the school’s Catholic values, according to a story by The Inquirer.
Miller told the paper he was told about the cancellation of next month’s planned workshop on Sunday. He gained notoriety in 1990 when he and three others had grants vetoed by the National Endowment for the Arts and his work is frequently provocative and he’s been arrested in the past for demonstrating for AIDS research funding, said The Inquirer story.
According to the story, in a statement, Villanova said it embraces intellectual freedom and academic discourse but had concerns about how Miller’s work matches its “Catholic and Augustinian values and mission.” Miller says Villanova’s decision wasn’t necessarily surprising although he’d previously held a similar workshop at DePaul, the nation’s largest Catholic University.
Now while I’m sensitive to the fact that ‘Nova has to be sensitive to the whole issue especially given the current state of the church and homosexuality and its priests, it seems to me that permitting a workshop – a voluntary event – might have been seen as a gesture showing its tolerance of other points of view.
Of course, the opposite could also been seen as true – that by allowing Miller’s workshop to go on would be an endorsement of gay and lesbians which obviously don’t fit the bill – that is, the values of the Catholic faith.
Either way it appears that Villanova’s decision was not going to make someone happy.
According to an article in The Inquirer:
“Miller said he was not totally surprised since Catholic blogs had picked up on his appearances and were spreading “this bizarre lie that I’m anti-Catholic. . . . People tell these lies, and it gets people who read these blogs worked up.
“While the cancellation was not ‘unimaginable,’ he noted that Villanova once staged Angels in America, a groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the AIDS epidemic.
“Times have changed,” he said. “We’re in a much more coercive, censorious time.”
I don’t disagree with that. The Catholic Church and its leadership are in full defensive mode and definite damage control. The never-ending cases of priest abuse have left it constantly under the microscope. When it seems like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, another controversy erupts and it’s back to square one.
However, in this region, Villanova has always prided itself in being above the crowd, willing to be the leader among area colleges and universities – the “gold standard” to steal the phrase from Eagles owner Jeff Lurie.
Not this time. The PR machine is drilling down deep and the collateral damage on this date is Miller. One could almost (sort of) accept the decision. We will be waiting and watching, however, for the next one. If Villanova wants to be considered one of the elite, it needs to remember to be at that level, it needs to take some risks. That’s what separates ordinary from extraordinary.
— Andy Hachadorian