December 22, 2005

Condom prank embarrasses Catholic weekly

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading United States Catholic magazine has apologized to readers after printing an advertisement for a statue of the Virgin Mary covered by a condom, which the Vatican opposes as a form of contraception.

America, a weekly run by the Jesuit order of priests, said in its latest issue that it was embarrassed and offended by an apparent prank by a London-based artist offering what he called the "Extra Virgin" statue for sale.

A color photograph showed a statue of Mary, who Catholics believe was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, covered from head to toe with a translucent but visible condom. The text notes the statue wears "a delicate veil of latex."

"We were embarrassed to have readers call our attention to the offensive advertisement that escaped our unknowing eyes and appeared in the December 5 issue," read the apology in its latest issue.

"Like them, we were deeply offended. The offense was compounded when we learned in the advertiser's reply to a concerned reader that he intended his art as an assault on Catholic faith and devotion," it said.

The message said the respected New York-based magazine had "taken several steps to tighten our advance review of advertising and express our outrage to the artist."

The magazine was in hot water in May, when its previous editor, Rev. Thomas Reese, quit under Vatican pressure because he had published articles examining both sides of issues such as gay priests, Vatican secrecy or the use of condoms to prevent AIDS.

The Catholic Church opposes all forms of contraception, which means it does not approve condoms even if used to help prevent the spread of AIDS. At the same time, the Church runs many hospitals and clinics to help AIDS victims.

Reese's resignation was seen as an attempt by the Vatican to ensure that Church publications reflect more closely its conservative policies. America follows a moderate to liberal editorial line that favors debating controversial questions.