Roman Catholic Archbishop of Milwaukee Jerome Listecki has criticized a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made out of 17,000 colored condoms and displayed at the Milwaukee Art Museum as an "attack on faith." The museum is arguing that the portrait, called "Eggs Benedict," is only meant to spark a discussion about the pontiff's opposition to condoms as a method to battle AIDS.
"What's at play here is either an intentional attack on a faith tradition and its teachings or a publicity stunt for the artist," said Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Listecki, according to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. "And we would be opposed to any faith tradition or religious leader being attacked in such a way."
The museum reportedly noted that it has received over 200 complaints about the portrait, and said that a handful of patrons have dropped their membership as a result of the controversy. It insisted, however, that the point of the art piece is to get people to think about Benedict's opposition to condoms as a method of birth control, which is a position upheld by the Vatican.
"This was never intended to be derisive, mocking or disrespectful of the pope," said museum board of trustees president Don Layden. "It was to have a conversation about AIDS and AIDS education. And my hope is when the piece appears in the museum that will be the focus of the discussion."
Museum Director Dan Keegan told Reuters, however, that the calls in support of the display have outnumbered protests.
"We look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work and the role art plays in society," Keegan said.
The portrait was donated to the museum by local philanthropist and LGBT advocate Joseph Pabst, who had purchased it for close to $25,000.
"Why did I buy it? I did not buy it because I thought it was beautiful," Pabst explained. "I bought it because I thought it was provocative and I thought it was important. ... This piece has work to do. It has to make people think and have discussions."
Benedict, who in 2013 became the first pope in modern history to step down from his post, which is now held by Pope Francis, said in a visit to Africa in 2009 that condoms are not the right way to fight AIDS infection and mortality rates on the continent.
In later statements he softened his stance on the subject, and said that in "some cases" condoms were admissible.
In a 2009 interview Benedict shared his vision about how to tackle AIDS:
"The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving toward others. And secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering," the pontiff said.