UPDATE: April 17: Artist will modify crucifix
WARR ACRES — Churchgoers are outraged over a crucifix in a Catholic church that they say shows an image of genitalia on Jesus. The controversial crucifix has caused a deep divide among members of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, where it hangs above the main altar. "There are a couple people who have left the parish,” said the Rev. Philip Seeton, the church’s pastor. "There are people in the parish who don’t like it and have stayed.” Critics of the crucifix take issue with what appears to be a large penis covering Jesus’ abdominal area. Seeton said the portion of the crucifix in question is meant to be Jesus’ abdomen "showing distension” — not a penis. Seeton said, "I’ve had people who have vocally said that that’s what they see there. I’ve had people who have been just as vocal who said that’s not what they’re seeing there.” Janet Jaime, a local iconography artist who designed the crucifix, had no comment. "I think it was painted according to the certain specific rules of iconography and church art,” Seeton said of the crucifix. The crucifix is about 10 feet tall. It has been hanging above the altar since Feb. 21. Seeton said the crucifix doesn’t concern him, and there are no plans to remove it. Monsignor Edward Weisenburger of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese also said he has no problems with the crucifix. He said the archdiocese has received no complaints about it. However, numerous current and former church parishioners contacted The Oklahoman this week expressing outrage at what many called a "pornographic” depiction of Jesus. Many asked that their identities be withheld. Parishioner Rita Cook said the crucifix is one of many recent decisions by Seeton, who has been at the church since 2008, that longtime parishioners are concerned with. "The crucifix is the straw on the camel’s back,” said Cook, who has attended the church for 35 years. "I think it’s an embarrassment to our Lord. I think it’s an embarrassment to our parishioners. And I think it’s an embarrassment to our visitors.” Molly Jenkins, who is not a member of the church, said she attended a funeral at the church recently and immediately noticed the crucifix. "I was appalled at the sexualization of Christ,” said Jenkins, who is not Catholic. Jenkins said she contacted a Catholic friend to ask whether such crucifixes are common. Her friend, Seannene Smith, said she visited the church Friday and also was disturbed. "I was horrified,” Smith said. "I believe in freedom of expression. I believe in artistic freedom. I believe that a church is a holy place, and I certainly don’t want people telling anyone how to worship, but I was shocked, stunned, and if I hadn’t been prepared already, I think I would have just been ill.” Smith said she grew more concerned upon learning that students from the neighboring St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School regularly attend Mass in the church. "I’m already very sensitive because of the pedophilia issue,” Smith said, referencing sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church in recent years. Smith said she stopped going to church because of those scandals. "This doesn’t make it any better,” Smith said.
Crucifix is a Catholic iconJaime, a local iconographer known for her religious artwork, was commissioned by the church to design the crucifix. Seeton wouldn’t disclose whether Jaime was paid. Jaime’s husband, Reggie, said his wife will not discuss the crucifix publicly until she meets with officials from the church and Oklahoma City Archdiocese to discuss the controversy it has caused. Reggie Jaime said critics of the crucifix probably aren’t aware of its history and meaning to the Catholic Church. "This isn’t just a subjective drawing. This is a historical icon of the church,” Reggie Jaime said. "I can’t help what you see in things, or she sees in things, or anyone.” The crucifix in question is a San Damiano cross, a common Catholic icon that originated in Italy in the 12th century and is widely associated with St. Francis of Assisi and the order he founded, the Franciscans. The original cross is in Assisi, Italy. The San Damiano cross is considered an icon because it depicts biblical figures. The crucifix hanging at St. Charles Borromeo resembles other San Damiano crucifixes except for Jesus’ abdominal area, which is noticeably more pronounced than on similar crucifixes. Seeton said he and Janet Jaime reviewed numerous San Damiano crucifixes to decide how the crucifix should look. Several parishioners have since come to Seeton with complaints about how the crucifix looks. Seeton said he tries to alleviate their concerns by explaining the history of the crucifix and pointing them to places where they can learn more about it. He said most parishioners are OK with the crucifix once they learn its history. Contributing: Staff Writer Jesse Olivarez The Oklahoman’s Watchdog Team: Looking out for you. Visit NewsOK.com/watchdog.
Click the thumbnail images above to view other examples of San Damiano crucifixes.