|This image shows the offending poster after Arthur Skinner|
had destroyed it - removing the more shocking elements
The image showing the Virgin Mary holding a pregnancy testing kit with a shocked expression on her face had been commissioned by an Auckland Anglican church, St Matthew-in-the-City. This parish is already known for displaying controversial (some would say blasphemous) quasi-religious images - a few years ago its billboard depicted an extremely distasteful image of St Joseph and Our Lady in bed after sex (click here and scroll down to view - but be warned).
Whilst reacting to this story, many anti-Catholic commentators in New Zealand have not only criticised Skinner, but have also used this opportunity to take a dig at the Catholic Church as a whole. According to Richard Boock, who appears to be an embittered lapsed Catholic, Arthur Skinner's act of vandalism is further proof of Catholicism's "bullying" and "intolerant" attitude. Those who bother to read Boock's article will find his self-righteousness particularly bizarre, especially seeing that he begins his piece - with no apparent sense of irony - by referring to Catholics as "Micks" (an offensive and derogatory term for the Irish).
The vandalising of this poster was also linked by Boock to the much exaggerated clerical abuse scandals. How both things are connected is beyond me. It might be something to do, though, with the fact that the Auckland Anglican church which displayed the offensive poster of Our Lady seems to be very pro-homosexual, whilst - according to a much touted "liberal" myth - the Catholic Church hates homosexuals and also encourages paedophilia. It seems, then, that the world and its allies get on fine with progressive churches, especially when they all combine forces to attack Catholicism. But didn't Jesus himself promise that those who proclaim the truth will always be attacked and mocked by the world and that the Church would be pestered by false prophets?
Of course, many would agree that Skinner's actions were extreme, if not illegal - a fact that he himself seems to revel in. But what has one man's attempted (and possibly misguided) defence of Our Lady's honour got to do with mythical Inquisitorial bogeymen or hysterical scaremongering about so-called paedophile priests? It seems that whenever an opportunity arises for a spot of Catholic bashing, liberals and those with an axe to grind against the Church come scurrying out of the woodwork. It is also guaranteed that if a relatively controversial story involving a Catholic appears in the news, there will be an army of commentators out there waiting to link it to clerical child abuse.
Sadly, it seems that the one thing these commentators hate the most about Catholicism is that it will not bow to their secular or materialistic gods, or to modern sexual mores. Because the Church condemns sex outside marriage (including homosexual sex), her "progressive" enemies will stop at nothing to try and discredit her - hence their hysterical over-exaggerations about priestly child abuse. Also, because Catholics like Arthur Skinner are genuinely hurt and angry at seeing the Virgin Mary mocked, the Church as a whole finds herself condemned as "intolerant" - yet no mention is made of the intolerance shown towards Catholics and our feelings. One wonders why these same concerned "liberal" commentators don't argue that the protestant church which displayed the offensive image of Our Lady was actually being insensitive, if not intolerant, towards those Christians who love Mary - our mother, given to us from the Cross by Christ himself?
I have no idea who Arthur Skinner is, and haven't heard of the movement he belongs to. As far as I know, he might be representing himself or only a handful of others. I do admire his obvious love for the Virgin Mary, though. It is right and just that Christians should be angry when our heavenly mother is ridiculed and mocked - just as Christ was moved to anger by those who were defiling the Temple or just as we would be hurt and enraged to see our own physical mothers being humiliated. The fact that those committing blasphemy against Our Lady actually call themselves Christians is even more likely to cause offence and hurt. One might understand why a Satanist or some extremist atheist would revel in producing blasphemous images of the saints, but for Christians to do it is inexcusable. It is both a scandal and an open attack on those who sincerely follow the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Having said that, I think it was unfortunate that Skinner chose to act on his anger by resorting to a form of criminal damage in order to get his point across. Although his anger was and is legitimate, his actions might not have been. In vandalising the poster, Arthur Skinner appears either to have been trying to court media attention for his group or to have fallen into a deliberate trap - designed to make Catholics look like the ogres or intolerant fools that the world believes us to be. The evil one loves it when we react to his goading - which is why St Paul warns: "Even if you are angry, you must not sin; never let the sun set on your anger, or else you will give the devil a foothold" (Eph 4:26-27).
A bit of wisdom and prayer might have helped Arthur Skinner realise that whilst righteous anger might not be a bad thing, turning the other cheek is always a good reaction for a Christian to adopt. There is much to be said for rising above calculated attempts to hurt and mock. Rather than vandalising someone else's property - even if the poster was really offensive to Mary (and all true Christians) - it might have been better for Arthur Skinner and his group to make acts of reparation instead? I am sure that many of them already have been doing this. In reflecting on this, I am reminded of some words from that well-known Marian hymn, I'll Sing a Hymn to Mary: "When wicked men blaspheme thee, I'll love and bless thy name". It's worth noting that this beautiful song does not say: "When wicked men blaspheme thee... I'll commit random acts of vandalism / take the law into my own hands"!
St Matthew-in-the-City church has succeeded both in creating controversy and mocking the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Christ and mother of all Christians. In so doing, I would question this church's real commitment to Jesus - who will not look kindly on those who unrepentantly deride his beloved mother. For that reason, and knowing that this isn't the first time that St Matthew's has attempted to steal the Christmas lime-light by displaying inappropriate images of the Holy Family, I can fully understand why Arthur Skinner felt so angry when he encountered this poster of Our Lady. Whether or not he should have vandalised it is another matter.
Personally, I believe that God will deal with unrepentant blasphemers in His own way. I also truly believe that Mary prays for the salvation of all those wicked men and women who mock her. We should join her in this act of mercy, offering the Rosary in reparation for those poor sinners who do not know what they are doing, or who are committing evil when they genuinely believe that their actions are for the good. We only have one life in which to repent, and no-one knows when his or her time on earth will come to an end. With that in mind, let us then offer our spiritual sacrifices this Christmas for those in most need of the grace of true conversion.
Those wishing to read the more about this story can do so on the Telegraph's website. After some thought, I decided not display the offending poster in its original state - it does appear in the above link, though.
[Image: The damaged poster of depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary outside St Matthew-in-the-City church, Auckland; source: The Dunedin School]