Article Title:Doubt: A Parable, by John Shanley
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:12th September 2006 - 12:00 pm
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Story ID:1411
Text:Set in 1964, John Shanley's brilliant Doubt is a timely examination of the modern crisis of endemic clergy paedophilia within the Catholic Church. Last year, it won numerous theatre awards in the United States, has just finished an Auckland season, is now playing in Palmerston North, and will end the year at the Court Theatre in Christchurch. For those who have managed to miss the play, I strongly recommend it. As for the factual background, one only has to read the incisive analyses of David France, Muriel Porter and Helen Goode and her collaborators to realise that clergy paedophilia is a serious transnational problem within the Catholic Church across national boundaries. It is a male-dominated hierarchical institution that has rejected the ordination of women, attacked feminism, and blinded itself to the insights and skills that independent feminist child sexual abuse investigation, analysis and intervention might bring to this vexed question. As for what needs to be done to insure justice for the survivors of clergy paedophilia, these authors suggest independent investigation, scrutiny and stronger penalties against clergy paedophiles and rapists. Doubt takes a different perspective from the factual analyses above, as a work of realistic fiction, but it is no less searching and incisive for that historical distance. At a parochial school in 1964, a New York old school Principal, Sister Aloysius, is dealing with church modernisation in the wake of Vatican II, and the admission of Donald Muller, a thirteen year old African American, to her school as its first black student. At the same time, she has to deal with the innocent Sister James, a fledgeling and idealistic young teaching nun, and the apparently idealistic Father Flynn, a forthright social justice activist. But no-one is as they seem. When Sister James starts to notice Donald's behavioural problems and traces of whiskey on his breath, she informs Sister Aloysius about her concerns. Sister Aloysius begins to entertain fears that Father Flynn's interest in her student is more than just anti-racist solidarity, and investigates the priest's past. She is horrified when she discovers that he has a record of past clergy paedophilia in other dioceses, dealt with through simply transferring him without further sanctions. She confronts Flynn about the issue, then the Archbishop. But these are the sixties and not the early twenty first century, so don't expect a tidy and just solution. Gay theatregoers will also find themselves challenged. When Sister Aloysius tells Donald's mother about the abuse, his mother tells her that as Donald's father is a brutal drunkard, her gay son needs some alternative social support, which she views Father Flynn as providing. She is obviously mistaken, but then, these are the early sixties, and there were no such things as lesbian and gay youth support groups at a time when no jurisdiction within the United States had even contemplated decriminalising homosexuality. For that reason, Flynn is able to manipulate Donald, while obviously leaving behavioural scars on the young gay man in question. As in David Frances' factual account, we are particularly reminded that gay adolescence is tough enough without unwarranted predatory interference from a malignant adult. At the end of proceedings, Sister James innocence is gone forever, and Sister Aloysius is assailed with terrible doubts about the morality and institutional justice of her church, and has emerged as a strong compassionate risk-taking woman who is not to blame for the evasive concealment tactics of the hierarchy. At least she has saved Donald from further abuse, but without adequate safeguards, Flynn will go on to stalk and scar more childrens lives. Many will develop major dissonance over their abuse and the fact that they are also gay, and develop substance abuse problems and low self-esteem, ultimately leading to unsafe sex and HIV/AIDS. As with most other New Zealand reviewers- in View Auckland, the Theatre Review and the Listener - I loved this work, and it richly deserved last year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Direction. Better still, the play script is available at most metropolitan public libraries, and at the Universities of Canterbury and Waikato Libraries. Recommended Reading: John Shanley: Doubt: A Parable: New York: Theatre Communications: 2005. Further Reading: David France: Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal: New York: Broadway Books: 2005. Helen Goode et al: Time to Listen: Confronting Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy in Ireland: Dublin: Liffey Press: 2003. Muriel Porter: Sex, Power and the Clergy: South Yarra: Hardie Grant: 2003. Performances: Centrepoint Theatre, Palmerston North (Until July 15) Court Theatre, Christchurch: 21 October- 18 November 2006. Craig Young - 12th September 2006    
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