An Italian photographer, Oliviero Toscani, made a few casual remarks about the Catholic church on a radio show.
Imagine to be an alien who has just landed in Italy. You enter in a beautiful Catholic church, without knowing anything about religion. You enter and you see a bloodied man hanged and nailed to a cross, an altar with naked babies flying, Saint Bernard without the skin… I believe that a masochist club wouldn’t be such at the upfront.
I’m not an alien, and I was raised as a tepid Lutheran, but I have to say that’s exactly right. That’s how I’ve always felt about Catholic churches — the iconography is brutal and extreme, with bizarrely explicit statues of a dying man writhing on a cross, and worship of saints who died grisly deaths. Catholic churches in North America aren’t even the worse — I visited a cathedral in Quito that had the most horrible illustrations of Hell proudly displayed all around. An Edward Gorey book is less infatuated with miserable deaths than the Catholic church. I find a John Wick movie less unsettling than a Catholic ‘Lives of the Saints’ book.
Toscani wasn’t saying anything remarkable, just what ordinary people who aren’t steeped in the Catholic tradition see. Except that Italy has blasphemy laws, and he was tried and convicted and penalized €4000 for his remarks. The judge even said this:
Defining Christ on the cross as “someone hanged” is a manifestation of the profound disrespect for the values of Christianity, disrespect comparable only to the worst propagandist language of a Muslim fundamentalist preacher.
I take it, then, that I’m allowed to insult Muslim fundamentalism in Italy, but not Catholic fundamentalism? Cool, cool.
I guess the United States isn’t the only nation with a judiciary corrupted by religion.