VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Pontifical Academy for Life (PAL) is sparking a fresh wave of outrage after it posted a doctored image of Michelangelo's Pietà portraying Jesus as black, ostensibly in support of the Marxist Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Catholics, as well as secular art lovers, blasted the Vatican for blasphemy, philistinism and race-baiting, accusing the august pontifical body of "manipulating art for politics" after it tweeted the picture on Saturday.
Italians excoriated the papal organization for going beyond the damage caused to Michelangelo's masterpiece by the mentally deranged iconoclast László Tóth.
"In comparison, László Tóth had done no damage," an Italian lashed out, drawing a parallel with the notorious act of vandalism when, in 1972, the Hungarian-born geologist attacked the world-famous sculpture with a sledgehammer, shouting "I am Jesus Christ — risen from the dead!"
Dashing past the guards and vaulting a marble balustrade, Tóth smashed the Virgin's arm at the elbow with several blows, lopped off a chunk of her nose and chipped one eyelid.
While the media denounced Tóth as a cultural terrorist and art historians lamented the damage, leftwing radicals hailed his "gentle hammer" with cries of "No more masterpieces!"
Joseph Shaw, a fellow of the prestigious Royal Society of Arts, told Church Militant that "the manipulated image of one of the most famous pieces of religious art in the world is disturbing, and feels like an offense against the art, its creator, and those who love it as art and venerate it for its subject."
"One of the beautiful realities of the Catholic Church is its incorporation of all cultures and peoples, with their artistic traditions. One can see devotional images of Christ and Our Lady from China, Egypt, Latin America and Northern Europe from every age of the Church," Dr. Shaw observed.
Shaw, an Oxford academic in medieval philosophy, elaborated:
This doctored Pietà, however, does not give that message of inclusivity and universality which is given by this authentic and spontaneous artistic pluralism. Instead it appears to be a political statement, and a deliberately divisive one: one that even divides Christ from His Blessed Mother, from whom He took His human nature.
"Devotional art should never be used for political ends: it cheapens and desacralizes it and is an offense against God and His Saints who alone should be its subject," Shaw stressed.
PAL posted the offensive image with the words: "An image that is worth a speech."
Social media commenters linked the picture with support for the anarchist, pro-abortion, pro-LGBTI, anti-family, anti-West cause célèbre.
In comments to Church Militant, distinguished academic and author Dr. Janice Fiamengo accused PAL's of achieving the very opposite of what it had intended.
"In presenting Mary as a white woman holding her black son, PAL could well be seen as perpetuating white supremacist norms, showing that white came before black, that black is not possible without white, and that white remains the great Mother of us all," remarked Fiamengo, former professor of English at the University of Ottawa, Canada.
"This may well be understood as an act of exterminationist othering for which the pontifical academy may need to do some deep soul-searching," observed the conservative author of Sons of Feminism: Men Have Their Say.
"While we must remain deeply conscious of racial inequality and white supremacy, there is a question as to whether the photoshopped picture goes far enough, or even whether it moves in the right direction," Fiamengo said.
She added: "We should bear in mind the words of critical race theorist Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, who reminds us that white supremacy sees "whites as the norm or standard for [the] human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm."
PAL provoked outrage among Catholics in July after it published a 4,000-word document on the Wuhan virus pandemic without once mentioning God, Jesus Christ, the Church, the gospel, the Bible or the sacraments.
Following a backlash, a PAL statement said that references to God were omitted in order to reach "the widest possible audience."
PAL then launched a personal attack on Catholic scientist Dr. Doyen Nguyen after she shredded the pontifical publication for portraying "an earthly utopia without God."
Nguyen, an academic physician and moral theologian with specializations in diagnostic hematology and bioethics, slammed the PAL document, titled "Humana Communitas in the Age of Pandemic: Untimely Meditations on Life's Rebirth," as godless, Christless, churchless, hopeless and faithless.
Pundits have criticized PAL's downward spiral under Abp. Vincenzo Paglia, who was appointed president of the academy by Pope Francis in August 2016.
Paglia's warning against "turning the pro-life cause into an ideological weapon" have led critics to interpret his most recent comments as offering support to the pro-death candidature of Joe Biden against the pro-life platform of President Donald Trump.
"Since Abp. Vincenzo Paglia was named president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, it seems to have become impossible for the Academy to shed light on any particular threat to life in our world," writes Dr. Jeff Mirius.
"One need look no further to establish the Academy’s vacuity than its amorphous, secularized observations on the coronavirus back in July," notes Mirius.
"Now," Mirius observes, "Paglia has further poisoned the teeming pool of life by arguing, in effect, that the politicization of life issues must always be avoided as seriously harmful."