Archbishop Paul Coakley says Oklahoma City should have the “courage” to prohibit a Civic Center production mocking Catholic beliefs, a course of action City Manager Jim Couch expects would result in a lawsuit the city probably would lose, at significant cost to taxpayers.
A satanist has rented a small, basement theater in Civic Center Music Hall to stage a “Black Mass” on Sept. 21. The organizer says the event is similar to a Catholic Mass, but involving a sacrifice to the devil, a practice known as inversion of the Christian ritual.
Coakley issued a statement condemning the production earlier this month, then in an email exchange with Couch wrote, “You must have a legal team there that can find a way around this.”
“I think something as outrageous as this requires a measure of moral courage on the part of the city of Oklahoma City,” Coakley wrote on July 8. “I am disappointed the city would be unwilling to risk the expense of a lawsuit to prevent such an offensive outrage to so many of its citizens.”
Coakley first forwarded on July 3 a news release issued by Bill Donohue of The Catholic League in New York. Donohue warned, “Oklahoma City had better think twice about this.” Donohue also condemned last December’s production at the Civic Center of “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” a play with homosexual characters that satirizes biblical stories.
Couch wrote back on July 8, pointing out the city and Civic Center “are required by law to rent space to individuals and organizations so long as they comply with our policies and ordinances and have paid the established rental fees.” For those who object to a production, Couch suggested the “most effective course of action is to contact the show promoter and voice your concerns.”
Coakley responded within the hour, thanking Couch while writing, “I must say that I am not satisfied with the answer.”
The archbishop pointed out organizer Adam Daniels is a sex offender and said the Black Mass is “vile, violent, sexually explicit, exploitative of women and blasphemous. It is a hostile attack on the Christian faith and the Catholic Eucharist. Does not that justify putting a stop to this?”
“I am praying for a change of direction and for a change of heart,” Coakley wrote.
Couch responded on Friday, offering to meet personally with the archbishop and saying the city’s past attempts to ban speech perceived by some as offensive had landed the city in federal court and “cost taxpayers a substantial amount of money.”
“I cannot recommend that the city take any action that would violate the Constitution and involve the city in a lawsuit that would likely result in a judgment and fees being assessed against the city,” Couch wrote.
Couch promised police would attend the Black Mass and stop it if anyone breaks the law. As for Daniels’ status as a sex offender, Couch said there was no law prohibiting a sex offender from renting the Civic Center’s basement theater.
“I understand his outrage. I totally understand his outrage,” Couch said in an interview Tuesday.
Calling the Black Mass mean-spirited, Couch said, “It’s sacrilegious, I think it’s distasteful, but I don’t believe it’s illegal.”
As of Tuesday, 13 tickets had been sold for the event, at $17.50 each, said Jennifer McClintock, a Civic Center spokeswoman.
She counted about 1,200 complaints from the public and said Civic Center staff had returned about 75 calls.
Interest in such things ebbs and flows, and the number of complaints has dropped since last week, she said, when some were harsh.
“People have made some pretty nasty comments,” she said.
A message on the archdiocese telephone said the office was closed Tuesday for a staff retreat.
Daniels, 35, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday he is a sex offender.
He said he was convicted in 2009 for an inappropriate relationship with an inmate at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, where he was a guard.
Daniels said the activity was consensual and involved “kissing and touching through clothes.” He said he lost his job and served two years’ probation.