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Benedict XVI made of condoms attracts Milwaukee Art Museum

For many of us learning to endure ridicule has become a new spiritual discipline. The early Church knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of scurrilous accusations and deliberate distortions. In one ancient piece of graffiti we see a crucified human figure with the head of a donkey. At the foot of the cross is “Alexamanos”, a Roman soldier or guard, raising one hand in worship. Under the cross is the caption “Alexamenso worships his God” or some variant. There was also the story that Jesus was the product of Mary’s rape at the hands of a Roman soldier. Then there were accusations that our Eucharistic meals were acts of cannibalism and drinking of human blood. All of these false statements could have been clarified with a little personal familiarity with the Christian community.

It is the same today. This “Eggs Benedict” nonsense shouldn’t be just written off as insignificant. There is a lesson here in what we are up against and why we need local leadership.

Notice the way this piece of art ended up in the museum. It was purchased by a local gay rights advocate for $25,000. BTW, most Christian activists I know couldn’t write a personal check for 25 grand. It would have to be raised. That means an active community. Then it had to find a museum director who considered it a worthy piece of art and who was indifferent to its effect on the Catholic community. Then someone then had to arrange for an increase in museum memberships because a single stunt like this doesn’t exponentially increase membership unless it is part of a plan. It’s possible he is lying about increased membership but I have no reason to believe it. There are two more likely explanations. First, the local gay rights community that raised the money for the purchase warns the same tribe that “art” will be displayed by the museum and encourages non-members to email or phone memberships in. It only takes ten to fifteen new memberships above the normal rate to make it sound like a huge spike. More likely, the much more significant news of re-opening in November after renovating the collections gallery motivated people to join. But, for political reasons, the director thought he could attribute the increase to “Eggs Benedict” since he really couldn’t be sure. Yes, I know with a certainty that these kind of press manipulations go on all the time. They are done by both sides of these conflicts.

Then there is the grand offer of hosting an inter-faith meeting to discuss the significance of the piece. Well, this isn’t art this is ideological propaganda. It is clever, inventive but who can deny that this is a political statement. Since that is the case, there is no need for the art work. The political issue about condoms and AIDS have been with us for a generation. It doesn’t need the excuse of an “artwork” to discuss these matters. THE REAL QUESTION WILL BE: Are there local Catholic leaders and teachers of sufficient orthodoxy and skill to present the facts about the Catholic Church’s success in stemming transmission of HIV in Uganda and other parts of Africa? Will they be familiar with Harvard’s expert in this area who wrote “Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries”? According to Green widespread distribution of condoms has been an ineffective strategy in reducing the behaviors that lead to HIV infection. He said the Catholic Church should continue to “do what it is already doing,” The statistics were on our side. See “AIDS and the Churches: Getting the Story Right”  – Al Kresta


The work was inspired by the former pope’s comments on AIDS in Africa

A portrait of Pope Benedict XVI made of 17,000 condoms has drawn fierce criticism—and support—at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

“Eggs Benedict,” created by Niki Johnson, was purchased by a local gay rights advocate for $25,000 and donated to the museum, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. Johnson says she was inspired by the former pope’s 2009 remarks that condoms would only worsen the problem of AIDS in Africa.

While some like-minded fans of the work have called the museum in support, it has also drawn powerful critics. Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki has condemned the portrait, and his chief of staff called it “either an intentional attack on a faith tradition and its teachings or a publicity stunt for the artist.” Several longtime friends of the museum have canceled their memberships in protest, and one docent resigned.

The museum’s director, Dan Keegan, said in a statement, “Our hope is that the piece will bring not only controversy, but room for conversation—about the underlying discussion the artist intended as well as regarding the role of art in public discussion.” He added that the museum has sold a record number of memberships in the last 10 days.

“Eggs Benedict” is scheduled to go on display this November after renovations are completed on the museum’s collections galleries; the institution is considering presenting an interfaith panel on debate around the work.


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