Panel discusses the meaning of 'doubt'

What do you do when you're not sure?

The question starts "Doubt: a Parable," opening at the Elks Opera House at the end of the month, and summarizes the ethical quandaries surfacing in the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play by John Patrick Shanley.

Several members of the community joined in a panel discussion at the Elks Opera House Tuesday night of the social and moral implications of the piece, Shanley's intentions, and contrasting interpretations.

Set in a 1960s Catholic school in the Bronx, the play centers on a priest accused of abusing a boy at the school, and a nun who is convinced he is guilty despite the lack of clear-cut evidence.

Ernest Giglio, a retired film professor and director of the play, moderated the discussion, addressing questions to the panel made up of Fr. Daryl Olds, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church; the Rev. Robert Fiske, a retired Methodist minister; Professor Charissa Menefee of the Prescott College Theater Department, and Professor Ryan Showler, head of the philosophy department at Yavapai College.

Though Shanley wrote the play years after the exposure of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, he has said that his major motivation was the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, in light of the government invading on the basis of Iraq's alleged involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Giglio said the questions Shanley poses intrigued him and inspired him to acquire the rights to produce the play in Prescott.

The central question of doubt arises as the accusatory figure in the play, Sister Aloysius, charges the priest with impropriety, though she has doubts of her own.

"When the situation is such, if you can't do nothing, it's time for you to act. Where do you seek guidance? Where do you find the truth when making the decision?" Giglio said in presenting the dilemma, asking the panelists individually if they share feelings of doubt about choices they made in life and their accomplishments.

Showler said doubt is a natural consequence of growing older because individuals have more things to consider as they absorb more information with age.

"Doubt has been my greatest educator," said Fisk, mentioning his recent reading of a book by Mother Theresa in which she stated she had doubt throughout her life.

Olds concurred with Fisk's perspective, saying doubt helped him to grow spiritually.

"To seek God is to seek the truth," he said. "A person who doesn't have doubt is somebody who is not thinking."

The panelists discussed several antagonisms in the play, such as Aloysius going against the ordained hierarchy in the church to accuse the priest because she felt that the current circumstances would protect him, and additional measures she takes to follow her convictions.

Though the panelists agreed on the predicaments, they varied on the conclusions.

Some thought the play leads the audience to believe the priest is guilty.

Fisk, who said he read the play twice, tended to believe him.

Menefee said the play artfully dramatizes the conflicts between human nature and moral consciousness.

"We really don't know what has happened, and you don't know why people act as they do toward the end of the play," she said.

It appeared that all members of the discussion felt moved by the piece.

"Doubt: A Parable" runs at the Elks Opera House Sept. 26 through Oct. 3.

Contact the reporter at lmclain@prescottaz.com