The scandal of Catholic clergy sexual abuse of children is, after two years, still on the front pages of the nation’s papers. But playwright Michael Murphy, director David Zak, and the actors of Chicago’s Bailiwick Repertory Theatre have managed to give the story the feel of a classical tragedy.
SIN—A Cardinal Deposed is a two act drama distilled from transcripts of (now resigned) Boston archbishop Bernard Cardinal Law’s depositions taken between August 2002 and February 2003 in civil actions against priests of the Archdiocese of Boston. The Cardinal is portrayed (with remarkable fidelity to Law’s real-life mannerisms) by actor Jim Sherman.
SIN casts Law as a man of remarkable intelligence, commanding presence, and faith. Yet he also bears a tragic flaw—a terrible arrogance, as well as the inability to see his own errors or the errors of his ecclesial bureaucracy.
In a “talk back” with the audience after the show, Sherman said that he accepted the part because he felt the playwright developed a complex character portrait of the Cardinal; the play is not “a hatchet job.”
Isn’t it ironic
SIN‘s title is an obvious but nonetheless powerful reference both to the Cardinal’s testimony and to his eventual removal from control of the archdiocese. Throughout the narrative, Law’s kindness and pastoral care of the abusers is juxtaposed to his shocking ignorance and dismissal of the victims and their families.
At one point, the Cardinal’s attorney strenuously objects to his opponent’s line of questioning, unthinkingly claiming, “This is becoming abusive!”
Read at your own risk
Of course, the real-life story of clerical abuse—of young children, teenagers and mothers, as well as the betrayal of whole parishes—forms the heart of Murphy’s play. In one particularly appalling moment, a victim’s testimony captures the essence of the entire scandal. He describes his experience of being anally raped by a priest in the parish rectory. While the rape was occurring, another priest of the parish walked into the room. This priest simply told the rapist to stop, “and then,” the victim reports, “he closed the door.”
Watching this performance, one could almost hear the door slamming on this boy, and on thousands of his counterparts, over and over and over again. SIN is not only well done, but also socially important, because it re-opens that door. It gives victims another chance to bring the truth of their experience into the light. And it gives all of us another incentive to stop such abuse from continuing.
Can we come to a theatre near you?
SIN—A Cardinal Deposed is running through May 30 at the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre in Chicago. The show’s cast and theatre’s artistic director are actively seeking additional venues for the production. They are interested in performing in theatres, but also colleges, conferences, and churches around the country.