Emboldened NM Catholics Lash Out
By Floyd Vasquez, 5/8/2001
By now most of you have heard about the "Our
Lady" controversy here in New Mexico. The International Museum of Folk
Art in Santa Fe is exhibiting Cyber Arte with "computer-inspired work
by contemporary Hispana/Chicana/Latina artists, all of who intentionally combine
elements traditionally defined as 'folk' with current computer technology
to create a new aesthetic."
This is Our Lady by Alma Lopez. It's the Virgin
standing tall with her hands on her hips. She's wearing what resembles a two-piece
bathing suit covered with flowers, and a cape. The Virgin's demeanor is what..
Strong? Confident? Natural? Athletic? Friendly?
Not so says Archbishop Michael Sheehan and other
indignant Catholic leaders here in NM. They are outraged and have undertaken
an ambitious effort to shame the museum, to demand that the work be removed
and to force the state's museum curators to apologize. No joke.
If there was actual or implied sexual content
or some other obvious viciously anti-Catholic subtext then we might have a
community standards debate. But that's not the case here. The artist herself
is a practicing Catholic who apparently chooses to believe that Our Lady was
a real woman with an extraordinary purpose and likely imbued by the Creator
with the personal, moral and intellectual resources to raise the son of God.
Is showing this woman in a non-traditional garment, standing upright with
her hands on her hips and a confident visage so morally repugnant no NM tax
payer should be permitted to view it and think about its meaning in a public
museum? You would think the answer was obviously "No." But that
hasn't stopped numerous indignant, self-righteous protesters from reacting
like the image was a money-shot from a hardcore porno movie produced by the
The issue here is perspective. Is this so-called
"offense" commensurate with the public response of the church? When
the Vatican released information recently confirming that some number of Priests
throughout the world have been raping nuns, and in some cases, forcing them
to have abortions, did Archbishop Michael Sheehan and every local church leader
in NM issue a press releases to signal their disapproval? Did they demand
apologies from the sexual offender/priests? When James Porter, a former NM
priest serving a prison term for sexual crimes against NM children came before
a parole board recently, did the NM Catholic leadership request all public
records, notes and emails concerning opinions expressed in the case? New Mexicans
can remember for themselves how the church dealt with the situation concerning
the former NM Archbishop when he resigned over allegations of inappropriate
sexual relationships with parishoners who went to him for spiritual guidance.
Suffice it to say the church made no public demands for an apology from the
former Archbishop nor organized any photo opportunities in support of the
My question is why do major (not to mention
blashphemous) problems affecting the church and society at large go unmentioned
by the Catholic leadership and yet when something as tame as Our Lady enters
the scene they declare a Holy War? Is the church responding to a perceived
new national climate where local religious groups are emboldened to seize
control of public institutions? Is it an attempt to rally the flock against
a common "enemy"? To divert attention from internal problems? Or
maybe its simply a case of misguided hubris.
If you are a Catholic and still reading this,
please accept my apology if this article is making you uncomfortable. It is
difficult for all of us to question our beliefs and our leaders. It is not
my view that Catholics and other religious groups can't believe what they
want. I'm just trying to point out that some folks here in NM are getting
wildly ambitious about imposing their views on others. If it pains ANYONE
to see a non-traditional artistic portrayal of the Virgin Mary where the heavenly
mother is not in an officially sanctioned pose nor garment, they should not
drive to the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, pay the admission
price, and then walk to the clearly marked area where it is displayed.
Let's hope this impudent public display of religious zealotry is not a sign of things to come here in New Mexico or anywhere where religious leaders currently do not set nor control the public agenda.