'Corpus Christi': Sick and Sicker
by L. Brent Bozell III
William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for
Religious and Civil Rights, probably wishes you had never heard of him or his
organization. The attention he's getting defending his church speaks volumes
about the lamentable frequency of Catholic-bashing in late 20th-century
In the past year or so, the Catholic League has been
everywhere in the news. First there was the ABC drama "Nothing
Sacred," finally dropped thanks in large part to the League's efforts.
Then, on April 7 - Tuesday of Holy Week - another ABC entry, the sitcom
"That's Life," aired a truly vile installment featuring references
to churchgoers visiting prostitutes on Ash Wednesday and attending Midnight
Mass in drunken stupors. "That's Life," too, has been cancelled.
Chalk up another win for the League. Then, on May 1, the New York Post
broke the story that the Manhattan Theater Club (MTC) was to produce a new
play, Terrence McNally's "Corpus Christi," in which, among other
things, "a Christ-like character... has sex with his apostles."
Donohue joined the battle, calling the play "sick
beyond words" and starting a national letter-writing campaign opposing
its production. On May 21, the MTC canceled "Corpus Christi," but a
week later, after protests from some of the theater world's biggest names, it
reversed its decision, and plans are for the work to be staged this fall.
What's actually in the play? An MTC brochure is clearly disingenuous; it hints
only that it might be somewhat edgy: "From modern-day Corpus Christi,
Texas, to ancient Jerusalem, we follow a young gay man named Joshua [the Jesus
figure] on his spiritual journey, and get to know the twelve disciples who
choose to follow him... Terrence McNally gives us his own unique view of 'the
greatest story ever told.'"
But a June 5 column by Bill Buford in the London newspaper
the Guardian illuminates how far McNally's willing to go with his "unique
view." Buford provides a plot summary: "The play... opens... with a
woman... screaming 'F--- me, f--- me,' over and over again (Joseph, we learn,
got his [testicles] shot off... thus Mary's virginity)...Joshua disappoints
his girlfriend on prom night - he can't get an erection - and later comes to
recognize his sexuality... with Judas.
If this isn't sick enough, read on: "The magic, curing
touch of Christ is [masturbation]...When Joshua reveals that one of his
disciples will betray him - someone who 'has lain with him' - they all [say],
well, that it could be any one of them, really." Buford is unequivocal:
"Corpus Christi" is "more flagrantly blasphemous than anyone
has yet realized." Already the rhetoric is starting to heat up on both
ends. Look for the establishment media to posit this as another Religious
Zealots vs. Freedom of Expression imbroglio, but it's instructive to read
exactly what each side is saying.
From Religious Zealot Donohue: "There is something
terribly perverse going on in the artistic community. The need to offend
Catholics is so deep and sick it can only be described as pathological...
Perhaps most disturbing... is the cowardly attempt to hide this bigotry under
the covers of artistic expression." Tough stuff, to be sure. But also
completely true. Meanwhile, several of McNally's fellow playwrights are
revealing themselves as bigots, or idiots, or both.
--Tony Kushner, of "Angels in America" fame,
blasted the "medieval notion that the arts in the U.S. need to follow the
Roman Catholic theological line." That is absurd. There simply is not a
single mass medium in this country that hews to Catholic tenets, or even comes
close. Prime time television... The movies... Popular music...
--Craig Lucas ("Prelude to a Kiss") remarked that
"no one has a monopoly on views of Jesus." But Donohue isn't
demanding such a monopoly. He's objecting to a vicious and deliberate attack
on his God.
--Jon Robin Baitz ("The Substance of Fire")
assailed "the collusion between the trash press [i.e., the Post] and the
far right [i.e., the Catholic League]." Forget the silly pejorative
labeling; it's a plot when one organization defends Jesus, and another reports
on their defense...
If ever there was a time for Christians to draw a line in
the sand, this is it. But I suspect that Donohue won't be alone on this one.
Look for Protestants from Jerry Falwell to Pat Robertson to marshal their
forces. Look also for Jewish leaders, from critic Michael Medved to columnist
Don Feder to public policy experts like Chris Gersten and Rabbi Daniel Lapin,
to ride to the rescue.
Who knows? This one might be big enough to finally wake up
the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, asleep for so long while others
manned the ramparts in her defense.
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