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Replace ‘George Floyd’ Christ with ‘uncontroversial’ art, Catholic University student government says

Kevin J. Jones   By Kevin J. Jones for CNA

A pieta painting, "Moma" by Kelly Latimore, has been displayed outside the law school chapel at The Catholic University of America since February 2021. It was stolen Nov. 23, 2021, and soon replaced. / The Catholic University of America

Denver Newsroom, Dec 9, 2021 / 11:28 am (CNA).

An image portraying the Virgin Mary and Jesus as Black in a way that some critics said politicized religion to comment on the murder of George Floyd was defended and replaced by Catholic University of America officials after it was stolen in late November. The university’s student government, however, has now passed a resolution calling for the image to be replaced with other art that better fulfills the needs for theological art and representation of the Black community.

“There are other paintings and icons that do a much better job at making a genuine, good faith effort to reflect the universality of the Catholic Church that also do not divide and confuse the university and larger Catholic community,” said the resolution, passed by the student government senate, in a 15-9 vote on Dec. 6.

The resolution’s title said it aimed to “unify the community by replacing controversial icons.” The text asks for the university to remove the paintings from university buildings and to work to replace them with “other forms of art that represent diversity and bring forth representation of the African American community in a non-political and uncontroversial way.”

CNA contacted the university for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

The painting, by the St. Louis-based artist Kelly Latimore, is titled “Mama.” It was installed in February outside the chapel at the university’s Columbus School of Law. In a style reminiscent of Eastern Christian iconography, the artwork portrays a Black Virgin Mary and Jesus in a Pieta-like scene. Mary’s gaze looks outward towards the viewer.

The image was stolen the night of Nov. 23. University officials replaced it with an identical, smaller copy from the campus ministry office.

University officials have said they always saw the image as representing Jesus. Latimore has said the painting was commissioned to “mourn” George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody in May 2020.

When asked if the figure in the pieta is George Floyd or Jesus, he responded ambiguously, answering “yes.”

Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests, some of which turned violent. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, was later convicted on three charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison.

The university addressed the image after it was stolen.

“There are those who would like to see George Floyd as the male figure in the icon. That is not how we read it,” the university said. “The image represents to our community a good-faith attempt to include religious imagery on campus that reflects the universality of the Catholic Church.”

“We hope to continue to build on campus a culture that engages in thoughtful dialogue and debate, not the sort of bully tactics epitomized by this theft,” Catholic University of America president Marcus Garvey said Nov. 24.

He acknowledged that some critics saw the image as blasphemous “because they saw it as deifying or canonizing George Floyd.”

“Some comments that we received were thoughtful and reasonable. Some were offensive and racist. Much of the criticism came from people unconnected to the university,” Garvey said.

The student government resolution cited some objections to the image.

“This icon is seen as blasphemous, offensive, and at the very least confusing not only to students but many in the general public and only serves to further divide the community,” it said.

“The purpose of sacred art is not to make a political statement but to promote worship, adoration, and faith ‘in the transcendent mystery of God’,” said the resolution, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The resolution said theological artworks on campus have “few representations of the African American community” and that the university could “increase and amplify those voices in a way that is consistent with the university’s mission.”

Latimore, the artist, told the Christian Century in an April 2021 interview that his “non-answer” about whether the image was about George Floyd or Jesus was frustrating to many people and he thought the fact it is a question is “part of the problem.”

“Again, it’s them trying to protect God, and we can be pretty sure that when we try to protect God, we’re creating an idol.”

The initial sketch of ‘Mama’ showed Mary looking at the figure of Jesus. Later versions shifted her gaze to the viewer, a change Latimore said was “powerful.”

“It wasn’t focusing on the death, which was horrible, but the viewer, and guiding us to communal thought and prayer and action.”

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  1. In our culture, politics has infected every aspect of our lives: the organization of family life; the definition of marriage; the education of children; our understanding of the science of climatology; the very meaning of human life; commerce and the exchange of goods; the provision of healthcare; the dissemination of information and news in all forums;and most crippling, the practice of religion. There is not one aspect of modern life that has not been weaponized in the idolization of politics. It’s the Crusade of the 21st century. Our god is weaponized politics.

  2. “Controversial” doesn’t really capture the issue. “Blasphemous, offensive” are much nearer the heart of it, along with sacrilegious and farcically fallacious.

  3. Trust the Catholics to idolize a man with a criminal record a mile long. Including holding a gun to a pregnant women’s stomach as he robbed her. The so called “ princes “ of the church will have a lot to answer for. Including that they act more like” princesses “

  4. To reduce the reality of Christ, especially His Passion, to something it was not, in order to appease the cultural sensitivities of society, is to, in effect, proclaim another Gospel than that which was proclaimed. Paul said to let such be accursed. To replace the reality of Christ come in the flesh with another image altogether is, as St. John puts it, the spirit of antichrist. Does it not deny that Christ came in the flesh? This is not about race. Humanity has always lifted itself to be god by focusing on its own identity. To make Christ and His Passion to be about race is to confuse the message of Christ and His Passion. Instead of drawing people – every nation, tribe, and tongue – to Christ, it focuses on self. Instead of promoting the righteousness of God, it promotes the selfish divisions of humanity. Instead of promoting the Truth that sets humanity free from the bondage of sin, this blasphemous alteration of Truth furthers humanity’s bondage to the god of this age who blinds the minds of humanity to prevent them from believing on the truth Christ and His true Passion. May God have mercy!

    • Your first sentence clearly states the truth. You following sentences support your thesis. You criticize a mistaken idea, not persons. “To replace the reality of Christ come in the flesh with another image altogether is … the spirit of antichrist. … This is not about race.” You explain that the Catholic faith provides clear teachings. To alter the truth of its teachings is to form a new religion. Catholicism is “for every nation, tribe and tongue”. It is offered to all who desire it.

  5. Forget for a minute the politics associated with Floyd.

    He was a mere man, just like the rest of us.

    Imputing Divinity into a mere man is textbook idolatry.

  6. Although it may subconsciously reflect the perspective of the journalist, I think you’ll find that the president of Catholic University of America is John Garvey, not Marcus Garvey.

  7. Don’t believe your lying eyes, folks!! Just because the guy in the painting looks EXACTLY like George Floyd doesn’t mean it is!! Oh, yeah. Right.Floyd was a convicted felon. He met his death while resisting arrest. His death was unfortunate but this is NOT a person to emulate or hold up as a sterling example of humanity. If anything his life was a primer on how NOT to behave in society. This painting has no place at a Catholic institution, as it borders on the sacrilegious, and I agree with those who find it divisive and inappropriate.Those who suggest that such objections are “racist, racist, racist”, need to increase their vocabulary and become better informed.

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