Saturday, October 3, 2015

Doubt: A Timely and Timeless Parable

As background information for our discussion of Doubt: A Parable, here are some excerpts from an interview with John Patrick Shanley.  (Cob, Robert, "The Evolution of John Patrick Shanley," American Theatre, Nov. 2004, vol. 21, issue 9)

"I went to a Catholic Church school in the Bronx and was educated by the Sisters of Charity in the '60s. That's a world that's gone now, but it was a very defined place that I was in for eight years. I realized later on when the Church scandals were breaking that the way a lot of these priests were getting busted had to be by nuns. Because nuns were the ones who were noticing the children with aberrant behavior, distressed children, falling grades, and in some cases they had to be the ones who discovered what was happening. But the chain of command in the Catholic Church was such that they had to report it not to the police but to their superior within the Church, who then covered up for the guy. This had to create very powerful frustrations and moral dilemmas for these women. It was very shortly after that that they started to leave the Church in droves.

...So showing this experience was one of the motivations behind Doubt. Another was that I saw a dark side to the Second Vatican Council's message of "go out into the community." When I was a kid, priests were not going to take boys out of church [to outside activities]. They were priests, they were in the rectory. And so I think this explosive combination of celibacy and "go out and make believe you're just one of the other folks" had a lot to do with the problems that followed.

But over and above that, the more interesting thing to me doesn't have anything to do with the scandals, and that is the cathartic, philosophical power of embracing doubt--of embracing not knowing, embracing that you may never know the truth or falsity of a story, of a scenario, and that you cannot morally stand in judgment from any place that is utterly firm in relation to another person's life. And yet actions must be taken if you feel the imperative, if you feel that you have the clarity of thought and know what should be done. And that powerful, explosive dilemma for an individual is really fraught for me. Here are these women who stumble on what may be something--and the choice is to go through the normal chain of command, which will lead to the complete exoneration and literally the safety of an abusive priest.

You know a member of my own family was molested by [Father John] Geoghan, the guy who was strangled in prison. And my family members went to Cardinal O'Connor, after they'd gone to everybody locally and gotten no satisfaction, and Cardinal O'Connor took them by the hands and said, "I am so sorry this happened. I will take care of it." And then he promoted him. Unbelievable. So they left the Church, but after 10 years they went back, and that Sunday the Monsignor got up and gave a sermon saying that these children who were abused, it was the parents' fault. That's when they left the Church again.

...I think when you see the play you'll see that my relationship to it is very complicated. There's an even weirder level: Is what some of these guys do totally bad? That I also have doubts about. When I was growing up, at certain points I was championed by homosexual teachers who were the only people watching out for me. And why were they doing it? They were really into boys. They were really into my problems. Did they do anything to me? No. Did they want to? I don't know. Did they make a pass? No. Was that in the air? Somewhere yes, it was in the air. Did I take advantage of the good things they were offering me? Yes, because I needed to, because I was isolated and there was no one else. Did that make them bad people? Not to me. Not to me at all.

...I'm not interested in issue plays per se, although I'm more interested in them now than I used to be. What I'm not interested in is writing polemics on one side of an issue or another. Doubt does not have to dismantle passion. It can be a passionate exercise."