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PORTLAND, Ore. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A controversial Catholic publisher has apologized after a fierce backlash over its use of a Mormon image for its hymnbook covers.
Oregon Catholic Press (OCP), currently embroiled in an antitrust lawsuit, used on the cover of two of its hymn publications — Today's Missal Music Issue 2021 and Respond & Acclaim — a picture of the "angel" Moroni created by ex-Catholic Mormon artist Jorge Cocco Santángelo.
The painting depicts the Mormon angel standing on a golden globe, blowing a trumpet and holding a box or book of gold.
Adherents of the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) place a statue of Moroni blowing a trumpet atop many of their temples as a symbol of the mission of to preach their gospel to the world.
Father Robert Badger, a priest of the diocese of Gallup, who converted from Mormonism in 1993, was one of the first to sound the alarm on OCP's portrayal of Moroni.
"Speaking as a former Mormon, if this is what the Music Issue is going to look like next year, this offers me an excellent reason to sever our relationships with @OCPmusic," Badger tweeted Monday.
"It's not a joke. @OCPMusic really is putting one of the pre-eminent symbols of Mormonism on the Music Issue," he reiterated.
Badger's tweets were closely followed by Fr. Cory Sticha, pastor of Sacred Heart in Cascade and St. Ann's in Fort Shaw, who asked OCP to "recall" the hymnbooks "immediately."
"This is not compatible with Catholicism in any way and is highly inappropriate for a Catholic publisher to place in Catholic parishes," Sticha tweeted.
At first, OCP defended its stance. "Great care goes into choosing the art for our missals," it said in a statement, contending that "third-party retail sites have erroneously labeled this image as something other than what it is."
"The original artist named this piece 'Angel VIII' and can be viewed on the artist's official website here. This particular piece was chosen for its beauty and, since it was for our beloved Music Issue, for its musical element/theme (the angel playing a horn)."
"This is a contemporary work, but in the recent past we used a beautiful icon of Christ written by a local Catholic iconographer, as well as beloved traditional, devotional images from past eras," OCP stated.
"The artist knew we were a Catholic publisher and did not offer us images that were assigned to a specific angel," it added.
But on his website, Santángelo proudly testifies to his LDS faith and his conversion from Catholicism to Mormonism. "After my baptism, I started making religious paintings. The [Mormon] missionaries didn't come to me asking questions. I was the one asking them questions."
Santángelo's question to the missionaries was about the nonexistence of modern-day prophets. "We have a prophet," the LDS evangelists told the artist.
"My wife and I were baptized as the first members in the city in the waters of the Uruguay River," he says in his video testimony.
The LDS website also trumpets the artist's conversion and accomplishments, noting that Santángelo was "raised Catholic" and joined the LDS church with his wife in June 1962, "becoming Argentine Mormon pioneers."
The painting is in the genre of "sacrocubism" — a technique developed by Santángelo that combines sacred subject matter with cubism, an early 20th-century movement associated with Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.
Mormons believe that Moroni, a prophet from the Book of Mormon, appeared to their first prophet, Joseph Smith, in 1823. Statues of the "angel" Moroni now grace the spires of most LDS temples.
Despite the direct link to Mormonism, OCP argued that the angel was "an appropriate depiction" of the apocalyptic "trumpet" texts in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:52.
"The artist knew we were a Catholic publisher and did not offer us images that were assigned to a specific angel," OCP maintained.
However, a commenter debunked this claim by posting an image of the same angel used on OCP's hymnal cover, which had clearly been labeled "Angel Moroni" by the artist on his own Facebook page.
"Lying is a sin in both the Catholic and LDS churches," the commenter hit back.
The publishing house attempted to cover up the torrent of negative feedback, stating on social media: "To keep this post respectful, comments will be hidden for now."
"Oh, this is rich. This is how @OCPmusic handles pushback on their non-apology," Fr. Sticha responded.
"OCP has never done a very good job of vetting the theology of the texts they suggest for Catholic worship ... (much less the quality of the music) why would we expect they pay any more attention to the visual art they use?" a Twitter-user responded.
Outraged Catholics mocked OCP's response as "moronic." Church Militant's Simon Rafe responded to OCP's Facebook post: "Did no one do what I just did and literally ONE MINUTE of Googling?"
Finally, OCP issued a second statement offering a groveling apology: "Upon further reflection, we should have done more research, and we apologize for this embarrassing mistake. We would never knowingly use an image that is not authentically Catholic on our publications."
"We are working to finalize a plan to make things right for our customers and to ensure this never happens again," it said.
Meanwhile, on Aug. 18, an Indiana federal court refused to dismiss a suit accusing OCP of trying to squeeze out smaller competitors through its monopoly on the publication of Catholic hymns.
Several Catholic publishers, including Lamb Publications LLC and International Liturgy Publications, accuse OCP of monopolistic practices aimed at driving them out of business.
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. has ruled the suit can continue.