NEW YORK (Feb. 24)
On the eve of the American premiere of the controversial play “The Deputy”–which alleges that the late Pope Pius XII had failed to speak out in protest against the Nazi mass-murder of Jews–a group of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish laymen and theologians, led by the editor of a Catholic magazine, issued a plea here today for calm judgment, in accord with American constitutional guarantees of free speech. The play is scheduled to open in one of the Broadway theaters here Wednesday night.
The announcement of the formation of an interfaith “right to be heard” committee was made at a press conference here this morning against the background of threats that the theater where “The Deputy” is to be put on will be picketed by Catholic lay groups, by Jewish war veterans, and by members of the American Nazi Party.
Edward M. Keating, editor-publisher of “Ramparts,” a Catholic laymen’s magazine published at Menlo Park, Calif., announced formation of the committee, and backed up its aims with a statement declaring that, in his opinion as a Catholic. “I believe that, as a Pope, Pius XII should have spoken out” on Hitler’s efforts to obliterate European Jewry.
Members of the “right to be heard” committee, in addition to Mr. Keating, include: Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, professor at the Jewish. Theological Seminary; Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America (Conservative); Dr. John C. Bennett, president, Union Theological Seminary (Protestant); Dr. Robert MacAfee Brown, professor of religion at Stanford University; Gordon Zahn, a professor at Loyola University, a Catholic institution, in Chicago; Arthur A. Cohen, author and editor for the book publishing firm of Holt, Reinhart & Winston; Thomas P. McDonnell, book editor of the Catholic Pilot, Boston; and Martin Marty, an editor of Christian Century (Protestant).
APPEAL ASKS FOR ‘FAIR HEARING’ FOR AUTHOR AND PRODUCER OF PLAY
“Because of the controversy surrounding this play,” a statement issued by the committee said, “we wish to declare our united concern that it receive a fair hearing without prior efforts at suppression, intimidation or pre-judgment. Most basic to our position is the guarantee of free speech under the Constitution of the United States, and there is no free speech where men will not listen with open minds. Equally important is the right of the individual conscience to reveal itself without fear of immoderate reaction.
“The Deputy’ is no ordinary play, dealing as it does with the issue of the personal responsibility of all men when faced with grave moral as well as historical issues. If we pre-judge or harshly criticize the actions of the author, how then can we deny him the equal right to judge the historical figures of his play.
“Various productions of ‘The Deputy’ in Europe, especially in Basle, and Paris, have been greeted with violence and demonstrations of the most serious nature. This sort of thing must not happen in our democratic society. And yet there are efforts now being undertaken to achieve discord and even street demonstrations are being threatened by various small but vocal organizations whose influence and actions in no way match those of the vast majority of our people, Catholics, Jews and Protestants–and all Americans whose calm readiness to see the play as it exists and not as some might imagine it, gives great hope for peace on the night of February 26.
“However, the people of good will are often too silent and that is why we, the undersigned, take this formal and united action to plead to everyone to grant Roll Hochuth, the author of the play, the produce, Herman Shumlin, and his company an open and fair hearing before expressing any opinion one way or the other. This present effort of ours is in no way an endorsement of the play; nor can it be construed as a criticism of the play. We have no opinion one way or the other for the very reason that we have not yet seen the play.”
PRODUCTION OF PLAY WOULD NOT WORSEN CATHOLIC-JEWISH RELATIONS
At the press conference today, Mr. Keating said that he is not judging the American production but that his reading of the play in advance led him to the belief that the drama “raises questions about the basic, underlying conditions” existing in the world during the Hitler era. “Mr. Hochhuth’s greatest indictment,” he stated, “is against all men who
He denied that production of the play would worsen Catholic-Jewish relations in this country. “Exactly the opposite will happen,” he predicted. “It will force Catholics to face up to this issue. They don’t know the play, have never seen it, most of them have never read it. They are reacting only to advance notice about its alleged ‘indictment’ of a Pope.”