Tax-Funded Art Museum in Virginia to Exhibit Painting Mocking Catholic Mass

By Barbara Hollingsworth | May 20, 2016 | 5:22 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) – A non-profit art museum in Virginia Beach that receives federal, state and local taxpayer funding is opening a new exhibit this weekend that includes a controversial painting by Los Angeles artist Mark Ryden mocking the Catholic Mass.

The painting, entitled “Rosie’s Tea Party” (which can be seen here on the museum's website), features the image of a little girl in a white dress with a crucifix around her neck slicing a ham labeled “Corpus Christi” – the Latin term for “Body of Christ.” The painting also depicts a rabbit pouring blood out of a tea pot into a tea cup with the Latin words “Sanguis Christi” (“Blood of Christ”) written on the saucer.

 “The offensive nature of this painting is clear on several levels,” said Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute, a group “dedicated to the defense of the Catholic Church”.

“It mocks the Sacrament of Holy Communion, it mocks the Catholic belief in transubstantiation, and in fact, it mocks the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” he said, calling the painting “outright blasphemy”.

The painting is part of the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) Turn the Page: The First 10 Years of Hi-Fructose exhibit honoring the San-Francisco-based arts magazine, which opens on Sunday and runs through December. It will feature “51 of some of the foremost contemporary artists of this decade,” according to a MOCA press release.

But Ben Loyola, a commissioner on the Virginia Beach Arts and Humanities Commission, which provides local taxpayer funding to MOCA, said that the painting was “anti-Catholic” and asked: “Is this the sort of thing we want to be subsidizing?”

“This is very anti-Christian and anti-Catholic. I was shocked to see this,” Loyola told WAVY-Channel 10 after previewing the exhibit. “Look at this, she’s got a saw in her hand cutting off a piece of ham with the words on the ham ‘Corpus Christi.’ That is Latin for body of Christ, and the hand is dropping down and eaten by rats.”

When the local TV station asked MOCA executive director Debi Gray to respond to Loyola’s complaint, she unapologetically responded that “art is intended to be controversial. To some degree it’s intended to spark dialog, and I am delighted it has fulfilled our mission.”

But in a letter to Gray, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, suggested that Gray exhibit a similar work featuring “a young Muslim girl in a hijab” and then tell outraged Muslims that “art is intended to be controversial."

Commissioner Brian Kirwin also pointed out that what he called the museum’s “celebration of religious ridicule” appears to be aimed only at Christians.

“To my recollection, there has not been any work spotlighted at the museum mocking Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism,” he said.

“I have not, nor will not, call for the removal of these works that ridicule the Christian faith, but I will question the motives of the museum director if this celebration of religious ridicule stops at the Christian faith and the museum’s First Amendment fervor stops there,” Kirwin added.

The commissioner told CNSNews.com that museum officials have refused to meet with him to discuss the matter even though MOCA received “a total of $345,000 from the city, $120,000 of which is from our commission. They also get state and federal dollars.”

“The museum has not given me any explanation to date.  They have issued press statements and have talked to reporters but have still denied Commissioner Loyola and/or myself the respect of any meeting or explanation at all,” Commissioner Kirwin told CNSNews.

In addition to local grants, MOCA received a $50,000 grant in March from the state-funded Virginia Tourism Corporation and a $20,000 federal grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund the Hi-Fructose exhibit.

The Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Virginia Beach Hotel Association provided $85,250 in matching funds, according to MOCA.

MOCA also received a $61,600 state grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts for “general operating support” for 2015-2016 in addition to ongoing subsidies from the City of Virginia Beach, which owns and maintains the museum building.

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