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Ethics in DOUBT

Originally submitted by: barcode 2x

John Patrick Shanley's DOUBT, running through April 13 at Performance Network Theatre (www.performancenetwork.org) raises a bundle of ethical issues. Each of the play's four characters are caught in a dilemma, and are forced to break ethical codes to succeed. A priest has been suspected of sexual misconduct with a young black student. The Principal of the Catholic School has gone out of her way to expose the young priest. For mere suspicion in this case, she ropes a young nun into the argument. She and the priest fight for the young nun's allegiance and no one comes out unscathed. Think about your own workplace. How far would you go to expose a potential scandal? What do you gain? And what are the right channels to pursue your course of justice? The Mother Superior, bound by the laws of the church, is forbidden to go to the Bishop with her claim. She can only go so far, and becomes a vigilante, crossing the protocol and breaking the conventional codes. She is punished for her actions, and demoted, while the priest goes unpunished, and transfered to a new parish. The author wisely lets the audience choose their sides, showing both arguments with balance and fairness. The most difficult choice comes in the second act, when the young student's mother is brought before the Mother Superior for a conference. When presented with the possibility that her child has been molested by his trusted priest and teacher, the mother refuses to pursue the case. The boy is the only black student in the school, she says. He needs help from someone like Father Flynn. The boy needs someone looking out for him, and if things happen, well, it's just until June. If the boy's father finds out, he will beat him, and the mother, to protect her boy, keeps him in the school, where he could possibly be at risk. Watching the play, I wondered if any parent in their right mind could make that choice, to leave her son open to a potential predator. But considering the racial pressures of the early 60s when the play is set, is she making a choice that will do the least possible harm? We never know what truly occurred between Father Flynn and the student. We never know exactly what motivates the Mother Superior to pursue her course. Within the church, the moral code is often stretched and dark secrets are kept to protect those in power. The system is flawed, and protections are put in place. The suspicions of sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church go back for generations, but within this establishment, how can things change? If you suspected a teacher of such things, what course would you follow? And what are the potential harms in doing so, without sufficient evidence? Is suspicion enough? Would you risk your own position within a company to remove someone from theirs?