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Catholic Church draws fire for defending art vandals

SHARE Catholic Church draws fire for defending art vandals

MEXICO — Mexico's Roman Catholic Church came under harsh criticism after church officials defended two men who destroyed a drawing at an art exhibition, calling it sacrilegious.

The vandalism at an art show Friday in the western state of Jalisco revived fears that the July 2 electoral victory by the socially conservative National Action Party may mark a return of the church's once enormous power in Mexico.

"The destruction of this drawing . . . demonstrates extreme intolerance and backwardness," the newspaper La Jornada wrote in its main editorial Monday. It said the church hierarchy had started "a crusade of fear."

The drawing depicted one of Mexico's most celebrated religious events — the moment when an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared on a peasant's shawl in 1531 — but the artist drew a naked Marilyn Monroe where the Virgin would be.

Two men identified as militant Catholics entered the gallery in Guadalajara and tore the drawing to pieces. They were arrested on charges of destruction of property, for which they face fines.

"It offended Christian principles, it offended the holy Catholic religion and it offended all Mexicans," said one of the suspects, Felipe de Jesus Gonzalez.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera, archbishop of Mexico, called the attack a "logical reaction" to the drawing's content.

"I think the artist was the intolerant one, because he hurts and laughs at religion but doesn't let the church defend itself," Rivera said. Another church official offered to pay the men's fines.

The Catholic Church's image has been marred in recent weeks by a scandal involving bizarre exorcism rites in which women were beaten and burned with candle wax in Puebla. A judge issued an arrest warrant for a parish priest allegedly involved in that ceremony.

The church fought a bloody three-year uprising against anti-clerical governments here in the 1920s. Restrictions on public religious activities in place for decades were lifted in the 1990s.