Photos from Britney Spear's new album, Blackout, showing the pop star coyly sitting on a priest's lap in a confessional booth has drawn strong reactions from the Catholic community.
The black-and-white photo is part of the album artwork featured in Spear's fourth album, released on Tuesday. Another photo shows Spears, clad in fishnet stockings and a short skit, raising one leg and leaning suggestively against the wall of a confessional booth while a young priest sits on the other side.
While the photos have not sparked the level of outrage from Catholics as Madonna's past provocations, it has caught the attention of Catholic League president Bill Donohue, who called the pictures a "bottom of the barrel" stunt.
"This is all the puzzle pieces coming together. This girl is crashing," said Donohue in a New York Daily News report. "She's not even allowed to bring up her own kids because she's not responsible enough. Now we see she can't even entertain."
Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications of Catholic League, called the photographs a "cheap publicity stunt."
The images were a ploy to get the media talking about her album instead of her music, McCaffrey told MTV.
"All we see is how troubled this girl is now, especially with her family, losing her kids, with her career on a downward slide," she added. "She should be focusing on singing and dancing and trying to be an entertainer without mocking a Catholic sacrament."
Meanwhile, some have posted comments accusing the Catholic League and the media of exploiting Spears for their own publicity.
"I'm HONESTLY amazed that they don't seem to notice any other albums other there that might offend them," read one comment posted on The Money Times. "No, they just make Britney a target. How unoriginal."
In a commentary for Catholic Online, Deacon Keith Fournier said the photos just represent a "continued growth of anti-Catholicism" indicative of "culture corrupted."
He said he only hopes the Britney's exposure to a confessional in the photo shoot would help her to seek absolution in her own life.
Despite the sensationalized media attention Spears has received over the racy photos and questionable behavior surrounding the custody battle with her ex-husband, her newest album has garnered some positive reviews.
The Philadelphia Inquirer called the album "a smartly produced, sleekly effective exercise in state-of-the-art escapist dance-pop."
"Just when you thought that Blackout was going to cut the power on Spears's pop stardom for good, it turns out that it's not so bad after all," the review said.
However, the Newsday reviewer said the new album was "terrible," noting the focus on Spears was never based on her music alone.
"She was more about, well, packaging – the look, the videos, the personal life, everything that surrounded the music," stated the review.
While Spears has many critics, a megachurch in Kentucky has decided to show the star support, love and compassion. Members at the Southland Christian Church in Lexington are gathering letters bearing messages such as "Britney, Jesus loves you," "The congregation of Southland Christian Church loves you as Jesus loves you," and "We are praying for you."
"If she were your next-door neighbor in the same situation without the money and success, wouldn't you care about her problems? Wouldn't you pray for her and offer her support and encouragement?" Southland senior pastor Jon Weece asked members of the 8,000-person church.
According to reports Spears was raised as a Southern Baptist in her home state of Mississippi, part of the Bible Belt, and supposedly entered the music scene as a relatively devout Christian.