Katherine Kersten is the outstanding Star Tribune columnist whom the paper treats like a virus that must be expelled. Surely she is the only columnist whom the Star Tribune editors seek to refute under cover of the paper’s institutional voice. Last week Kathy wrote an interesting column about the pending production of Dario Fo’s comedy “The Pope and the Witch” at the University of Minnesota. According to the New York Times, in this play Fo “is battling for the church to change its opposition to abortion and to the legalization of drugs.” The Times review elaborates on the kind of hilarity to be found in Fo’s play:
“The Pope and the Witch” is enlivened by a radio-controlled toy car, balloons, cell phones tucked in clerical underwear, a sly Oz-like reference to a puppet pope, topical jokes about Manuel Noriega and violence in American schools, and a shaggy dog story about beans that ends with the creation of the Green Party.
But these are only the amusing means that accompany the telling of its story of the Pope…and the Witch…
At the outset, the nameless pope, with 100,000 orphans waiting in St. Peter’s Square and the world’s press assembled for a news conference in the Vatican, is in the throes of paranoia, believing that the appearance of the children is sponsored by manufacturers of condoms in a plot to embarrass the Church.
The witch, in nun’s habit, turns up as an aide to the doctor summoned to treat the pope, and before long the Holy Father is seized with a paralytic affliction that, among other names, is known as “a crucifixion stroke,” leaving him with his arms outstretched.
And who besides the little witch, who favors abortion and legalization of drugs, can alleviate his distress? By the time matters play themselves out, the pope, in mufti, will have paid a visit to the little witch’s clinic, where she dispenses free heroin from clean needles, all courtesy of a mysterious benefactor. And she and the pope will encounter a couple of gun-toting Mafiosi trying to learn who has been hijacking their drugs.
With the aid of some injections, the pope will be induced to dispense information, and by the finish back at the Vatican, evil machinations in the church hierarchy will be exposed.
Kathy writes in her column:
We live in a world where Danish cartoonists are in hiding, Russian dissenters are gunned down or poisoned, and even naming your god can invite a gruesome death in some countries. In such a world, it’s hard to be impressed with the guts it takes to dress witches as nuns at an American university.
Beating up on the pope is neither risky nor unpopular. In fact, you can face down the Catholic Church’s “power structure” and not risk a scratch. To wit: Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath has assured the U that the archdiocese has no plans to organize protests or call Catholics into action against it. “We have a great deal of admiration for the university, its arts and activities,” McGrath said. “‘There’s not going to be any continued rancor that grows out of this.”
Will the U follow “The Pope and the Witch” with a principled defense of truly unpopular views — say, a sequel: “Mohammed and the Witch”?
Don’t hold your breath.
Yesterday the Star Tribune responded to Kathy’s column in an editorial. Given the fact that the Sunday paper has twice the circulation of the daily paper where Kathy’s column first appeared, many more people will read the editorial than will read the column. That makes it a little easier for the Star Tribune editors to win an argument with the columnist. In a column on the paper’s disapproval of the publication of the Danish cartoons this past February, Kathy made a prescient point that the editorial proves out:
[M]any newspapers insist that the cartoons violate their standards. The Star Tribune described them as “purposefully sacrilegious” and has declined to reprint them. Many Christian readers will be watching to see if standards differ the next time a cartoonist turns his sights on evangelical Christians or the Catholic Church.
I didn’t think Kathy’s point would be proved right so quickly, but I thought enough of it that I included it in my NRO Valentine’s Day “Women We Love” tribute to Kathy here.