Thursday, May 04, 2006

Nick Patricca's Church

An unblinking vision at the contemporary Catholic Church in the US is
in store in the first production in Dublin from Chicago playwright and
theologian, Nick Patricca. For Patricca it is a subject matter with
which he is more than familiar. Teaching at Loyola University, the
largest Jesuit university in the United States, since 1968, the play
comes from a lifetime of experience.

"I know and have known hundreds if not thousands of gay clergy," says
Patricca. "I also have a firm grasp of church politics as well as of
official and unofficial thinking."

Despite the title, one of the most celebrated literary figures to crop
up in the play is the poet and Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins,
who also taught at UCD in the institution's early years.

Patricca aims was "to show how terrible the predicament was for
Hopkins, that he had to choose between his understanding of god and
Christianity on the one hand and his sexuality on the other. I wanted
to show that it is possible to be true to one's self and also true to
Christianity and even to the Catholic Church as a priest."

He does this, however, through the character of a modern day priest
working in Chicago, where, more than a century later, the church is
being forced to take a more ad hoc approach to its priests' sexual
orientation.

The play concerns Fr. Gerry, a gay priest who has recently split from
his lover, after failing to resolve the conflict he feels between his
sexuality and the church. Meanwhile, the nasty Archdiocesan
apparatchik, Monsignor Bononi, is busily trying to sell Fr. Gerry's
church out from underneath him. The land value around these parts, it
seems, is far too high to justify anything as frivolous as a church.

"I do not see Msgr. Bononi as a bad guy. I think he is doing his job
rather well. Like him or not, or like his positions or not, I think he
has a clear vision of what must be done to save the church, and what
price must be paid."

"Most of the events and characters in the play are based on real
happenings and people in Chicago from around 1990 through till today,"
says the playwright. "The first priest I know of in Chicago to die of
aids was forced into silence about his condition, as the play states,
otherwise the archdiocese would have withdrawn his health insurance."

The question of health insurance for priests came up, when Patricca's
research lead him to discover the peculiar employment status of priest
in the US. In American, most parish priests are, in fact, classified
as 'independent contractors', while bishops enjoy an almost unique
status in the US:

"They and baseball are the only legally protected monopolies in USA."

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