Unethical Quote Of The Month: William Spencer Reilly, Executive Director of the Sheen Center

This was Bishopr Sheen, after whom the Sheen Center is named. Having spent a lot of time watching and listening to Sheen, I am fairly certain that he would not concur with the Sheen Center's decision. Why? Because, among  other reasons, he was a lot smarter than that.

This was Bishop Sheen, after whom the Sheen Center is named. Having spent a lot of time watching and listening to Sheen, I am fairly certain that he would not concur with the Sheen Center’s decision. Why? Because, among other reasons, he was a lot smarter than that.

“When an artistic project maligns any faith group, that project clearly falls outside of our mission to highlight the good, the true, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages.”

William Spencer Reilly, the executive director of Manhattan’s Sheen Center,  in an email announcing that it was cancelling an anti-censorship benefit event at its theater because the organizers refused to allow the Center to change a play’s title and redact the content of some speakers’ remarks.

Yes, a theater found an anti-censorship event unacceptable because it refused to submit to censorship.

Ethics Dunce is too kind for Mr. Reilly, though I suspect he is more likely a traitor to his art and profession because he wants to keep his job. He is, however, a strong candidate for Hypocrite of the Decade. He rents out the Center for a theatrical project to condemn censorship, and then attempts to censor the event.

Cowabunga.

There were two ethical courses open to him: either refuse to rent the space to the event, or rent the space, knowing its purpose, and leave the event alone. What he did instead was ludicrous, and indefensible.”The management of The Sheen Center actually suggested that we alter the title of Neil LaBute’s play, and alter the content of some of our panelist’s speeches,” said the artistic curator of “Playwrights for a Cause.” “Which we find completely out of line with the anti-censorship mission of the benefit.”

Ya think? Yes, I’d say that is res ipsa loquitur. Also indefensible was Reilly’s tortured interpretation of the Sheen Center Mission Statement, which is, admittedly, a pompous mess:

“The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture is a forum to highlight the true, the good, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages. Cognizant of our creation in the image and likeness of God, the Sheen Center aspires to present the heights and depths of human expression in thought and culture, featuring humankind as fully alive. At the Sheen Center, we proclaim that life is worth living, especially when we seek to deepen, explore, challenge, and stimulate ourselves, Catholic* and non-Catholic alike, intellectually, artistically, and spiritually.”

What is true can only be sought by permitting and encouraging all ideas, expressions of ideas, and explorations of controversial and contentious ideas. What is good, as this blog proves daily, is much in dispute. Beauty, as it has been “expressed through the ages,” is a highly subjective concept. Thought cannot be encouraged by inhibiting thought, and culture requires the constant testing of boundaries, traditions and conventional wisdom, much of that testing administered by artists. We cannot possibly seek to deepen, explore, challenge, and stimulate ourselves, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, intellectually, artistically, and spiritually, if we try to stifle expression and ideas that make us uncomfortable.

The event, called “Playwrights for a Cause,” featured four new short plays about censorship in the arts, and was set to take place on June 14. The offending Neil LaBute play, written for the event, is about an actor asked to perform in an offensive satire: “The prophet ‘Mohammed’ stands on a barren stage, recalling the first time he made love to a white woman. Is this reality or a theatrical convention? Where do the lines between ‘satire’ and ‘censorship’ intersect or is nothing sacred when it comes to the theater?”

Apparently truth is best served by never finding out, or indeed asking the questions, according to Reilly’s circular and craven interpretation of the Sheen Center’s mission.

The irony is that it is the cancellation of the “Playwrights for a Cause” program that violates the mission, as well as the eternal mission of all the arts.

My guess: Reilly knows that as well as I do.

*NOTE: The Sheen Center, which opened last year, was funded by the Archdiocese of New York. It is named not for actor Martin Sheen,  but in honor of former Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose theological musings went toe-to-toe with Uncle Miltie on live prime time TV in the 1950s.

_________________

Pointer:  Mediaite

Facts: New York Times

 

10 thoughts on “Unethical Quote Of The Month: William Spencer Reilly, Executive Director of the Sheen Center

  1. This is totally tangential at best, but I had always wondered why on Earth Charlie Sheen had a brother called Emilio Estevez. (I know, silly me. It’s Hollywood, knucklehead! Being Hispanic was probably good for business by the time Emilio got his shot at nepotism.) As it turns out, Martin Sheen is a very (surprisingly?) devout Catholic (whose mother, as did mine, probably thought Fulton Sheen was the greatest thing since canned milk) and chose “Sheen” as his name (rather than Estevez) to honor Fulton Sheen. I’ve always been glad my mother died well before Charlie Sheen had his long run on “Two and a half Men” and in the gossip mags as a profligate ethics corrupter. She’d have been beyond mortified. Great image.That might have been the same publicity shot that was on the back of his book my mother kept on her night stand. Ol’ Fulton was quite a looker.

  2. This is a good example of “you can’t have it both ways”. Reilly’s rationale for attempting to censor the event was idiotic. Btw, I take issue with your comparison with Bishop Sheen and “Uncle Miltie”. Gueeze, Bishop Sheen was being promoted as a candidate for something approaching Sainthood and was the original televangelist. As a non-Catholic, I found the clips of him on YouTube I’ve seen to be fascinating although he should have fired his makeup artist.

    • Not a comparison: sorry for not being clear. Sheen was programmed opposite Milton Berle, then the most popular TV entertainer, on prime time, and held his own. He was in the same field, at that moment, as Berle’s crude comedy, yet never lost his dignity. Sheen was amazing; what a boon he would be to the culture today.

    • But please don’t compare Sheen to televangelists. He wasn’t speaking to a throng; he was quite and thoughtful; he talked about daily challenges, and and never hyped the Catholic Church. It was a general audience theological/philosophical/ Biblical lecture, with jokes and humor.

      My favorite bit was that he used a blackboard, walked away from it, then when he returned, it was clean. He said that he had an angel who kept an eraser tucked under one wing who volunteered his time to help the show run smoothly. Once he got into an ad-lib discussion of how the angel flew without dropping the eraser.

  3. Man, we Catholics love being in a position ti be criticized as bigots, fundamentalists and hypocrites. Thank God we can get forgiveness for that. 😉

    On a more serious note, this Sheen guy sounds fascinating. Do any of his telecasts still exist? I’d love to see them.

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