The Sexual Problems that Confront the Catholic Church

Culture Watch
tags: theater reviews, Bathing in Moonlight



Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.


A Cuban American family in Miami since the 1980s has known Father Monroe, their local Roman Catholic parish priest, for years and loved him. The handsome 41 year old cleric, a popular man, has helped them through crises both religious and personal and was seen by them as a pillar of the church. The aging patriarch of the family, Martina, thinks he is cute and her daughter, the attractive and out of work Marcela, in her twenties, thinks he is downright adorable.

Right away, Marcela starts to flirt with the priest. He flirts back and the two of them are soon caught up in a hot and heavy relationship that is obviously headed for the bedroom. Marcela knows she should not carry on with the priest, but can’t help herself. Father Monroe is quickly torn between Marcela and the church. What to do?

That is the plot of Bathing in Moonlight, a new play by Nilo Cruz that just opened at the McCarter Theater, in Princeton, N.J. It is an effort to understand how hard it is for priest to care for his flock and avoid the attention of women in it. This is not a new problem and has been going on for nearly two thousand years. The celibacy rule in the church has brought it nothing but trouble. Father Monroe’s story is certainly not unusual. Many priests who have fallen in love with women, or men, have quit the priesthood and married. Yet other priests have sought sexual satisfaction with young boys in their parish that have created ugly situations. Cruz seems to be trying to create deep drama out of the story and, at the same time, tell the tale of what happened to this Cuban family, in Miami for thirty some years, as it battles its own domestic problems.

Two thoughts as you watch the play, though: 1) this priest torn between God and a loving woman is as old as the hills, and 2) so Father Monroe, quit the church and run off with Marcela and live a happy life. Why drag all of this out over nearly two hours?

Cruz has taken an old church dilemma, one of many church “dilemmas,” as we all know from reading the newspapers and watching television news, and tried to put new heat into it but forgot to turn on the oven. The story does not go anywhere once the priest and woman start eying each other. The end is flat, too.

The sad thing is that Cruz ignored some rich dramatic threads he started to weave at the beginning of the play. He does a fine job of telling us of the patriarch’s memories of her long gone husband but it dead ends. Her son, whom everybody thought went away to become a doctor, returns not only not as a doctor, but a failure. Marcela is holding the family together and should be dealing with the problems of her teenaged daughter but does not. Cruz has written a play rich in texture and language and loaded with fine acting performances but he is so intent on his romantic theme that he misses other satisfactory themes and a chance to tell the audience much about Cuban Americans in Miami and their troubles since the 1980s. And, oh my, have they ever had troubles.

He also misses a chance to snipe at the Catholic Church that has paid out over $25 million in lawsuit settlements on sexual abuse cases of all kinds over the years in Miami alone. He has a gaunt Bishop, always wagging his finger at Father Monroe, who seems to be in the right. The bishop might be in the wrong and the play should put a spotlight on that possibility.

Director Emily Mann has done a fine job of directing the play, that takes place on a luscious set designed by Edward Pierce, but she has to work with a thin script. She does get fine performances from Priscilla Lopez as Martina, Raul Mendez as Father Monroe, Hannia Guillen as Marcela, Katty Velasquez as teenager Trini, Frankie J. Alvarez as the son and ghost father and Michael Rudko as Bishop Andrew.

Cruz’s play is a good look at the sexual problems that always confront the Catholic Church, and how it seems to deal pretty poorly with them, but he has written a milquetoast story when he should have written a scorcher.

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the McCarter Theater. Sets: Edward Pierce, Costumes: Jennifer von Mayhauser, Sound: Darron J. West. The play is directed by Emily Mann. It runs through October 9.  



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