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THE ANSWER IS NO! Curtain pulled on church play, Bishop Kane says parish's abortion drama not appropriate


9/15/2004 7:58:00 PM by Bonnie Miller Rubin - Chicago Tribune


When Chicago writer Delle Chatman launched a play about abortion, she didn't do it to be controversial. All she wanted, she said, was to create a forum to address a painful and polarizing subject.


Her show, the story of a Catholic politician denied communion for his support of abortion-rights legislation, was set to run Oct. 1-3 at her North Side parish, St. Gertrude, with the full support of the pastor.


But on Tuesday, she received word that Bishop Francis Kane had decided "The Answer" was inappropriate for production in a Catholic church.


Chatman, a screenwriter with Hollywood credentials and a graduate student in theology, was disappointed but resolute. Rehearsal continued Tuesday evening in the church rectory, and the producers said they will look for another stage.


"It's a loss," said Chatman, 52. "I want to believe that the Catholic Church can be a setting for an inspiring dialogue about this subject and a play can be a prayer that Catholics can say."


The flap started when a news release about the show caught the attention of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, an organization that aims to bring "traditional Catholic values to the public life of Illinois." The group posted an item on its Web site, generating some blistering e-mail and phone calls to the Archdiocese of Chicago.


After reviewing the script, Kane pulled the plug on the production, which had been in rehearsal for about a month.


"It was decided that this was just not something that should be held in a church at a Catholic parish," said archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer. "It's just not appropriate."


St. Gertrude's pastor, Rev. Bill Kenneally, responded that it was inappropriate for the church hierarchy to stifle discussion.


"It's disappointing that the bishop stepped in at this point. There are plenty of problems for him to be involved in and to get involved at this stage is inappropriate," said Kenneally. "But he's just doing his job."


Set to a score of gospel, jazz and sacred music, "The Answer" is centered on the mythical Sen. James Berkley Harrison of Missouri--considered a shoo-in for re-election until he is denied communion for a vote supporting abortion rights.


With his campaign under attack, the senator is dealt a more personal blow when his daughter reveals she has had an abortion, which he knew nothing about. The revelation deals a crushing blow to his political ambitions and his marriage.


"I wanted to get to the bottom of the pain that is underneath abortion," said Chatman, who started writing the play in 1987. "I thought a good story could create a safe place for folks to share instead of shout. ... Jesus told stories--that is the primary way in which he taught--and we're doing the same."


A panel discussion on the politics of abortion was to follow the production, which featured two dozen parishioners in the cast and crew.


At a meeting Tuesday with Kane and other church leaders, Kenneally said he would look for another venue--including a nearby school, the Raven Theater and other churches. He also made no promises that he would shut the production down.


"It's hard for people to understand how a play works, that there are different characters with different points of view," said Kenneally, who has been at St. Gertrude for 20 years. "The play is extraordinarily Catholic in its desire to show that abortion has effects that are always traumatic."


However, to abortion opponents like Mary Anne Hackett, there is no dilemma to examine.


"They are presenting this as if there are arguments on both sides," said Hackett, president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois. "The church teaches that this is an unspeakable crime and there is no other side."


Hackett, who has not read the script, said her ire is directed not at the playwright but at the parish, which also hosted Rev. Jesse Jackson--a supporter of abortion rights--last spring.


Mark Kollar, a Chicago actor who plays the senator, hopes the production can still find an audience. "I thought it painted a very good portrait of a family faced with a significant dilemma, which is why I wanted to do it."


Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune




Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved