Santa Fe Newspaper Publishes Virgin Mary Wearing Bikini; Receives Public Backlash

A weekly, alternative newspaper in Santa Fe, N.M., is receiving criticism from local residents after it posted a controversial illustration on the cover of its 2013 Summer Guide issue in early June.

The Santa Fe Reporter, which distributes 20,000 copies of its paper to Santa Fe residents each week, annually posts a 2013 Summer Guide issue to inform residents of the upcoming recreational activities in the city, and this year it chose to feature a colorful cartoon on the cover of this issue. Those offended by the cartoon argue that the illustration resembles the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, clad in a bikini and sunglasses and sipping on an ice cold beverage while surrounded by a shirtless cowboy, a boy eating ice cream, a flute player, and a hiker drinking beer.

The Virgin Mary of Guadalupe is considered a celebrated and sacred icon for the Roman Catholic religion.

Several residents in Santa Fe have voiced their opinion to local media outlets, calling it offensive in a city known for its impressive collection of historic Catholic cathedrals.

The name "Santa Fe" itself means "holy faith" in Spanish and dates back to when the city was colonized by Spain and formally named after St. Francis of Assisi.

New Mexican resident David Rodke told the local news affiliate Fox 19 that he finds the image to be "blasphemous" and "offensive."

Another offended resident sent a letter to the newspaper, posted on the newspaper's website, which describes the image as "an affront to all Catholics [and] a hate crime."

Paula Miera Dougherty, another resident, also expressed her discontent with the image by writing a letter to the Santa Fe Reporter's editor-in-chief, Alexa Schirtzinger, which was also posted on the newspaper's website.

"Picturing a bikini-clad, margarita-drinking sun worshiper within the same images that Our Lady of Guadalupe is usually pictured is an affront to the local families who have worshipped in this City of Faith for the past 400 years," Dougherty wrote. "As a major publication, I believe you owe these families an apology."

Additionally, the Very Rev. Adam Lee Ortega y Ortiz, pastor of the Cristo Rey Parish, wrote to the newspaper and described the image as "demeaning," saying he is "personally and professionally insulted" by the cover.

The newspaper has sought to defend its choice in artwork, with editor Schirtzinger posting a response statement on the newspaper's website, saying the image is meant to represent the Santa Fe culture and the diversity of the city.

"When we settled on the theme for this year's Summer Guide – 93 days of summer, 93 ways to enjoy them – we wanted to come up with a cover design that was engaging and captured the essence of summer. We wanted something that reflected not just the diversity of activities we would recommend readers pursue this summer, but also the diversity of our city," Schirtzinger wrote on behalf of the Sante Fe Reporter staff.

"As a staff, we developed a concept we thought would offer a different take on the city's cultural and extracurricular landscape. Each image on the cover relates to an activity profiled in the story," the editor continued.

"The intent of our Summer Guide cover design was not to insult or denigrate any religion or ethnicity, but rather to incorporate an important part of Santa Fe's culture into an image that also unites other diverse cultures that flourish in our city. We do, however, appreciate our readers' perspectives on the issue, and we never intended to offend anyone."

Schirtzinger told journalist and blogger Jim Romenesko that the newspaper has also received positive feedback regarding the image.

"And while we've received a lot of emails accusing us of blasphemy, we've also gotten some pretty positive responses to the effect of 'Art is supposed to make people think!'" Schirtzinger told Romenesko.

In fact, not all of the comments on the Santa Fe Reporter's webpage regarding the summer issue's cover are negative; many congratulate the publication on generating discussion and also condemn other ways in which the Virgin Mary's image is used throughout the city.

"I am Mexican and Catholic and see nothing wrong with the artistic representation on our cover. Do yourselves a favor and don't go near any downtown-area gift shops where you can find the Virgen de Guadalupe's depiction on everything from boxer shorts to condom wrappers," wrote Enrique Limon in response to Schirtzinger's statement.

Additionally, two local residents told KOB 4 News that they saw no problem with the newspaper's cover.

The Santa Fe Reporter is reportedly not stepping down from public criticism of its summer activities guide, which was published in early June, and plans to keep selling the controversial issue.