Saturday, March 31, 2007

Catholics angry over naked chocolate Jesus in NY

A life-size sculpture of a naked Jesus made out of chocolate has angered Roman Catholic leaders, and a Manhattan art gallery is reconsidering whether to exhibit it during the Easter season.

The sculpture "My Sweet Lord" by Cosimo Cavallaro was to be exhibited for two hours each day next week in a street-level window of the Roger Smith Lab Gallery in Midtown Manhattan. It was set to open on Monday, days ahead of Good Friday when Christians mark the crucifixion of Jesus.

"We're considering our options," Matthew Semler, the gallery's artistic director, said on Friday. "We're still assessing the situation."

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called for a boycott of the affiliated Roger Smith Hotel, writing to 500 religious and secular organizations.

"This is an assault on Christians during Holy Week," said Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications for the league, which describes itself as the largest U.S. Catholic civil-rights group.

"They would never dare do something similar with a chocolate statue of the prophet Mohammad naked with his genitals exposed during Ramadan," she said.

The archbishop of New York called it "scandalous" and a "sickening display."

"The Catholic community is alerted to this offense of our faith and sensitivities. This is something we will not forget," Cardinal Edward Egan said in a statement.

Semler said the hotel had no knowledge of what the gallery planned to show and was being unfairly targeted. Moreover, he said the work was not irreverent.

"It's intended as a meditation on the Holy Week," Semler said of the sculpture, which depicts Jesus as if on the cross. Easter Sunday, this year April 8, is celebrated as the day of Jesus' resurrection.

A photo of the piece on the artist's Web site ( shows the work suspended in air.

New York is familiar with clashes between art and religion.

In 1999, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to withdraw a grant from the Brooklyn Museum of Art for a painting depicting the Virgin Mary as a black woman splattered with elephant dung adorned with cut-outs from pornographic magazines.

Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking a different approach.

"If you want to give the guy some publicity, talk more about it, make a big fuss," Bloomberg told WABC radio. "If you want to really hurt him, don't pay attention."

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