Precious Moments at America

By Diogenes (articles ) | Dec 19, 2005

Grabbing an offensive rebound from America magazine's Lady in Latex controversy, Kevin Jones posts an e-mail sent in response to unhappy Christians:

Dear Reader:

We too are offended and very much regret we did not catch the mistake prior to publication. We are returning payment for the ad and protesting the abuse to the artist.

The problem was not evident in the black and white proofs we have used to check final copy. We are taking a number of new steps to review advertising in advance of publication.

Thank you for being so attentive.


Drew Christiansen, S. J.
Editor in Chief

Let's return to the real world.

1) There is probably no group, in the entire universal Church, that is less likely to let that particular form of sacrilege slip by unnoticed than the Jesuits of America magazine in Manhattan. Suppose you taught high school and that same ad had appeared in the student newspaper. Would you buy the explanation that the students "didn't catch the mistake" in the proofing process? Rubbish. Yet we're talking here about adults who are players in the culture wars, players who've taken notoriously edgy positions on sexual issues. The word "mistake" does not apply.

2) The editor says the "problem" was not evident in the black and white proofs, and that's how the ad got into print. You can make your own call regarding the greyscaled jpeg (left), but even if -- which I find preposterous -- no one at America ever realized he was looking at a condom, even if no photo had accompanied the ad, the text itself would convict them of collusion. The ad describes a sculpture of a Madonna named "Extra Virgin" -- a camp but unequivocal bit of mockery -- and the mention of "the delicate veil of latex" is meant to provoke the same sort of tittering. Again, if we came upon the same text in a high school newspaper we'd have no trouble finding the hermeneutical key.

3) If we're meant to be looking at a slip, where are the other ads in America for kitschy religious art, with which "Extra Virgin" was so easily confused? There are none. Even a condomless kitsch Madonna would be rare enough to make the sub-editors spew their latte across the copy desk in shock. This isn't the Sacred Heart Messenger, folks.

4) Let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that no one on America's staff colluded in the ad. Suppose further that, instead of the Blessed Virgin, it was a hallowed liberal icon whose figurine had been treated in a comparably ignoble manner. If someone were hawking a nine-inch Martin Luther King sheathed in a condom, or a nine-inch Cardinal Bernardin coated with K-Y jelly, or a nine-inch Eleanor Roosevelt outfitted with a dental dam, are we meant to believe they too would have passed all the way through America's process of ad acceptance, lay-out, and proof-reading, with no one raising an eyebrow? If you can believe that, boys and girls, you can believe anything.

5) OK, so let's imagine the ads for the Precious Moments proposed above did slip into print without anyone catching the "mistake." Suppose that they also were accompanied, as was "Extra Virgin," by racy titles: "Doctored King," "Sloppy Joe," "Nude Deal Dem," and so forth. After the furious complaints came pouring in, do you think America would write in response to outraged readers, "Thank you for being so attentive"? Do you think they'd even consider trying to palm them off with the black & white page-proofs line? Do you think, indeed, that anything less than staff dismissals -- followed by a year-long orgy of apology, self-recrimination, and compensatory hirings from the offended populations -- would suffice?

Of course not. And in the case of "Extra Virgin," if the ad had simply been passed by drowsy proofers, it would mean that the folks at America accord the Mother of God much less pious attention than Dr. King, Cardinal Bernardin, etc. That supposition in itself is not implausible, but the "oops we let it slip" excuse is. Some person or persons in-house brought off the stunt, the predictable flap occurred, and we're getting the predictable damage control, the minimum necessary force required to keep America in the boundary-bending business.

Will they come out of this with all flags flying? Almost certainly. Who is there, with the authority to intervene, that wants to use this issue (and the attendant publicity) to do so? No, I anticipate very little in the way of official remonstrance, and I expect it'll be an extra-merry Midwinter Holiday on 56th Street. (Incidentally, I'll bet the artist in question was deeply stung by America's "protest"; he even got the cost of his ad refunded.) They must be wetting themselves laughing.

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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Dec. 23, 2005 12:22 PM ET USA

    One Jesuit told Reuters: "'We're Jesuits...I don't think you could have found anyone in the editors' room who has seen a condom.' The mention of a 'veil of latex' failed to register, he said." Now that is stretching it a bit too far (pun intended). If they expect us to believe they are so pure and chaste that they haven't seen a condom, then I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn -- and in San Francisco. They're Jesuits, not Amish.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 23, 2005 8:22 AM ET USA

    The Jesuits say they were duped. Rosenthal, according to the AP, (a pro-condom AIDS activist) says that there was no attempt to trick America or the Jesuits. All the details were there for the reading in the ad that was submitted. I'm inclined to believe him. Anyone surprised that other Catholic mags weren't subjected to this,only America? Of course not. The ad was sent to the magazine he knew would publish it. The Jesuit protestations ring hollow.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2005 4:55 PM ET USA

    Diogenes, you might also be interested to see this communication from the Jesuit Provincial of New York. I entirely agree with your remarks, Diogenes, but I am happy at least that they are answering correspondence over this issue when they might just have ignored it. After all, they are the powers that be, at least for now.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2005 11:50 AM ET USA

    Is this (scroll down to Steve Rosenthal) another one of his chefs d'oeuvre?

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2005 11:39 AM ET USA

    I'm wondering if anyone other than me has tried to track down this alleged artist. Does any information exist, online or otherwise, about him or what makes him tick? There are a number of things that point to a hoax, not the least of which is the email address he uses, and the turn of phrase, "to register interest." I think I've found another one of his pokes at the sacred: This one is called "SantaSatan's Workshop" Hmmm.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2005 9:37 AM ET USA

    "Jesuitical," the old epithet, is no longer descriptive of the Society, because it denotes a certain cunning, or at least a merely intellectual dishonesty. "Liars" is much more accurate and topical.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2005 8:42 AM ET USA

    Actions, and lack of action, have consequences. It is not enough to apologize. There is a saying going around in clerical circles, "It is easier to be forgiven than to get permission." I am rather skeptical of their explanation - and their apology.

  • Posted by: parochus - Dec. 20, 2005 3:20 AM ET USA

    I'm kinda surprised Di didn't point out the double-entendre in the ad about the "serpent," which makes this "art" especially nefarious.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Dec. 20, 2005 2:45 AM ET USA

    This ad is a transgressive taunting of the Catholic dogma of the virgin birth. And I have a hard time understanding how this insult to the Virgin Mary and the Catholic Faith corresponds to the mission of the Society to defend and propagate Catholic Faith and morals. It reflects badly on the Society of Jesus. Many of the faithful already and with sound basis suspect the motives and the very catholicity of many Jesuits.For many, America Magazine already has the reputation as being transgressive and untrustworthy. This is not convenient for a Jesuit publication. As Jesuit apostolic instrument, it should be all things to all men and reflect a prayerful discretion which use to be the hallmark of the Society.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Dec. 20, 2005 12:58 AM ET USA

    A part of getting to the real truth of this matter is WHO is the artist? WHO paid for the ad? WHOSE email address is listed? HOW is this person (or persons) known to America's editors, contributors? And Diogenes, I ask that you might remove the picture from the BB (maybe providing a link to it for those who need to know). No use giving this blaphemous work of a sick and/or evil mind anymore viewing then need be. Heaven help us!