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Catholic League Scourges McNally Play

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights--which has crusaded against ABC television programs the league considers anti-religious--is now riding into legitimate theatre. The New York-based faith defenders are attempting to joust with three-time Tony-winner Terrence McNally and the Manhattan Theatre Club over the coming fall production of McNally's "Corpus Christi." The league even wants to dam up the theatres stream of public funding. But playwright McNally and MTC refuse to take up arms, and won't comment on the Catholic attack.

The league issued a press release this week stating that William Donohue, the group's president, had written McNally, asking him to delete the script's "offensive references to Christ," adding that the play "features Christ having sex with his apostles."

"The letter I wrote to McNally was reasonable in its demands and temperate in its language," Donohue said, not mentioning what his specific demands were. "Yet he remains obstinate. Accordingly, the Catholic League has no other choice than to write to every federal, state, and local official who has oversight responsibilities for the arts " because MTC receives public funds and "therefore is just as culpable as McNally (he sits on the club's board of directors)."

Donohue concluded: "McNally's blasphemy is apparently of no interest to those in McNally's home, namely the gay and artistic communities Indeed, to say it leaves them unfazed is actually quite generous."

The league last year barraged ABC with criticism over its show "Nothing Sacred," and its experiences of an erring priest. Releases flowed from the league offices everytime a sponsor left the show, which the network eventually cancelled.

Last month, the league jumped on ABC's "That's Life," branding it "the most bigoted anti-Catholic show ever to appear on network television."

For what appears to be its first maneuver into live theatre, the league has taken on a heavyweight. McNally won his third Tony for "Master Class," in which Zoe Caldwell created the role of Maria Callas. Most major awards flowed to him for "Love! Valour! Compassion!" He won the 1993 Tony for best book of a musical with "Kiss of the Spiderwoman."

But national television--where producers and sponsors flinch at every blip in ratings--is not theatre: the intimate, solid home of experimentation and testing boundaries. So the league evidently hopes it can play politics with public funding sources, an issue which has proved threatening to the arts at every governmental level.

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