Valencia’s Escalating Inflammatory Rhetoric Should Not Have Gotten This Far

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post describing the escalating fiery rhetoric in a debate between the cardinal of Valencia, Spain, and several LGBT equality groups in that nation.  Cardinal Antonio Cañizares had made highly derogatory remarks about gay people, and these statements were met by LGBT and feminist groups threatening to bring hate crimes charges against him for the comments.  In that post, I urged reconciliation between these parties before the episode exploded into worse discourse than had already occurred.

They didn’t listen to me.

A Spanish feminist group petitioned the government to bring charges against Cañizares “for inciting discrimination and hatred,” according to London’s Catholic Herald. Cañizares responded with a statement comparing his situation to the persecution of the Spanish church and clergy in the early twentieth century.  And he asked “Is it homophobic to defend the family?”

The verbal fisticuffs should have ended there.  But things have gotten worse.

Edevant ‘s social media graphic

Edevant, an extreme-left political party developed a social media campaign inviting people to Valencia’s Pride celebration. The prominent image of the campaign depicts two traditional Spanish Madonnas–Our Lady of Montserrat and Our Lady of the Forsaken–engaged in a passionate kiss.  Next to the image were the words: “Against the holy oppression, love as you want.”

Perhaps to no one’s surprise,  Cañizares responded with a strongly worded statement.  According to Crux:

“In the statement, read by Cañizares at Sunday’s Mass, he said that together with his auxiliary bishop, Bishop Esteban Escudero, they ‘energetically’ rejected the ‘desecration,’ calling it ‘unfair and gratuitous.’

“The two are calling for Catholics of Valencia to join them in praying the rosary and attending a reparation Mass on Thursday afternoon.

“They are also calling for Catholic universities, schools, parishes and ‘all citizens wishing for peaceful coexistence and respect for the convictions of all’ to join the act of reparation and to protest this ‘serious expression of intolerance and lack of respect for the religious beliefs of thousands of Valencians.’ “

The local incident has now become a national controversy.  Crux reported:

“On Wednesday, the Spanish Bishops Conference released a statement supporting Cañizares’s reparation Mass. They refer to the Edevant campaign as ‘blasphemous,’ saying it’s ‘yet another episode in a spiral that attempts against the legitimate exercise of religious freedom, as to the freedom to preach the Gospel in a plural society.’ “

The verbal war of words did not end there:

“That same day, Edevant released a statement saying that they knew the campaign would cause the uproar of the Catholic hierarchy because ‘the freedom transmitted by the sign’s image reveals the obscurity and hatred they transmit.’

“In their statement, the organization says they ‘hit the nail’ with the picture, and acknowledges they decided on this image specifically as an echo against Cañizares ‘who signaled the “gay empire” as a social threat.’ “

My best response to the angry rhetoric of both sides is to quote the words of Rodney King:

“People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?”

The public images of church and progressive groups are tarnished badly.  Cañizares should have never made the remarks he did, but having said them, he should have apologized when he learned they caused offense.  At the very least, he should have listened to the response of LGBT people.   Cañizares justified his remarks by asking, “Is it homophobic to defend the family?”  No, it isn’t homophobic to do that.  But it is homophobic to create LGBT people as the enemies and destroyers of the family.

On the other side, did Edevant need to use an image intended to offend the sensibilities of people they oppose?  Could they have not invited people to Pride in some other way?  Instead of working to resolve an already tense situation, Edevant chose instead to escalate the tension.  I am not trying to constrain what I regard as their freedom of expression or even their artistic license to choose to depict these traditional images as a lesbian couple.  Instead, I am saying that they might have thought better than to use such an image during an already volatile moment.  Just as Cañizares and the Spanish bishops could have opted for dialogue as a response to the image, instead of igniting a national protest campaign.

There is plenty of blame to go around here, and both sides share in it.

The lesson of Orlando that strong rhetoric can lead to strong and violent responses is one that both sides in this case need to learn before it is too late.

As for the legal case, Crux reported:

“On Tuesday prosecutors have announced they’re going forward with the investigation for ‘hate crime,’ and now have six months to determine if Cañizares’s homily, which defended Catholic teaching on family and echoed Pope Francis’ own concern over gender theory, constitutes a ‘violent behavior motivated by prejudice.’ “

As for this whole sorry episode:  To be continued.  Unfortunately.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


8 replies
  1. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    It seems inappropriate to use images of religious importance like the representations of Our Lady in this manner. I defend the right to protest what sounds like hate speech, but why antagonize people who could be allies? Plenty of Catholics disagree with some church views, but leave icons out of the fray. Will the pope scold this prelate? Let’s see.

  2. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Tragic. Both sides should pay attention to the Church’s admonition for “respect, sensitivity and compassion – towards clergy as well as to LGBT people.
    Sadly, the same war is playing out also in Sardinia, where a parish priest has been formally charged with incitement to murder – for preaching on Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans I:32), which he described as “prophetic”. I’ve not yet found any English translations, but the Italian press and websites are all over it. I have a summary up at QTC ( ), and aim to have a more complete story in basic translation, a little later.

  3. Thom
    Thom says:

    I must respectfully disagree with the blog author and with the comments thus far. If you are offended by Edevant’s use of Madonna iconography, then it seems like you are falling into the trap of projecting idolatrous sentiment onto the image. For the author to claim some allegiance to Catholic sentimentality of idols is to paint oneself as equally incapable of separating emotion from the potential for violence. The opportunity for “dialogue” seems remote from a Chruch leader like Cañizares, who started the conflict from his position of power (the pulpit), and who it appears is unwilling to make compromises or to “come to the place where people are.” Perhaps this very public “dialogue” is the only vehicle he knows how to express himself—especially since it seems he is unwilling to LISTEN in a more private, or less public, conversation. It’s a two-way street. Further, Cañizares’s insinuating remarks regarding immigrants arriving from Africa and Turkey, as mentioned in the Crux article, make pointedly clear that he is a biggot disguised in clerical garb

    The Catholic Catechism [ ] states thus about icons and religious representations:

    “* Holy images

    1159 ‘The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images:

    Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God . . . and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.27

    1160 ‘Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other:

    We declare that we preserve intact all the written and unwritten traditions of the Church which have been entrusted to us. One of these traditions consists in the production of representational artwork, which accords with the history of the preaching of the Gospel. For it confirms that the incarnation of the Word of God was real and not imaginary, and to our benefit as well, for realities that illustrate each other undoubtedly reflect each other’s meaning.28

    1161 ‘All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the “cloud of witnesses”29 who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations. Through their icons, it is man “in the image of God,” finally transfigured “into his likeness,”30 who is revealed to our faith. So too are the angels, who also are recapitulated in Christ:

    Following the divinely inspired teaching of our holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her) we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life-giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on streets.31

    1162 ‘”The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God.”32 Similarly, the contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart’s memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful.’

    27 St. John Damascene, De imag. 1,16:PG 96:1245-1248.

    28 Council of Nicaea II (787): COD 111.

    29 Heb 12:1.

    30 Cf. Rom 8:29; 1 Jn 3:2.

    31 Council of Nicaea II: DS 600.

    32 St. John Damascene, De imag. 1,27:PG 94,1268A,B.

    If, as the Catechism states, “Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words,” perhaps the Edevant group has unwittingly created an image inspired by the Holy Spirit. “If all sacred images…truly signify Christ,” perhaps Christ is not so abhorrent of two women kissing one another. *Do you think Christ is abhorrent of two women kissing one another?* If you find the image of two women (dolls) kissing to be offensive—or even to be offensive in the context of Christianity, which supposedly promulgates the admonition to ‘love one another’—then you have probably been sufficiently brainwashed exactly as the Catholic Church bishops wish you to have been brainwashed.

    Homosexuality—and its public expression—is a new paradigm within the socially-constructed psychology and heterogeneity of community. If you are uncomfortable with the image, that onus has to be on you, not on the LGBTQ organization that chose to represent their joy of the possibilities of loving relationships with the picture of (literally) two doll figurines embracing one another.

    NOWHERE does the advertisement attack specific people. NOWHERE does the advertisement advocate violence. NOWHERE does the advertisement belittle, disparage, or discriminate against a select population of citizens. It simply says that people have the choice to ignore the Church leader who DID specifically attack LGBTQ people. Any conflagrated inflammatory rhetoric is solely the responsibility of the viewer of the advertisement.

    I feel that the advertisement is entirely appropriate in response to the language used by Cardinal Cañizares, who HAS used defamatory language and rhetoric that could incite or result in violent reaction. If you doubt the effect of words-turned-to-violence, one need only look to history…and even our present-day, American political landscape. The online magazine The Intercept [ ] noted a new report published by Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding [ ] that has documented an upsurge in violence against Muslim Americans in the United States since the advent of the 2016 presidential election campaign. One guess as to the presumptive presidential candidate who is associated with the inciting rhetoric corresponding to the increase in violent attacks.

    Cardinal Cañizares’s rhetoric is no less violently rousing—and dangerous—to LGBTQ individuals. (Orlando, while the murderer’s psychological impetus is a complex conundrum, should be another obvious example…extremist Islamic rhetoric regarding LGBTQ people is no less defamatory than its right-wing Christian counterpart.)

    For an organization to simply say to the public, “You may disregard the oppressive religious rhetoric being spewed, and continue to express your true selves and express your love for one another,” hardly seems like escalation. Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese has stated: “A prophet is someone who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. He/[She] speaks truth to power.” So who is the afflicted here and who is the comfortable/the powerful? We have to believe that it is okay to disagree (or vociferously disagree) with those in positions of power (Canizares). Otherwise we abdicate our right to speak justice. Canizares can apparently dish out “serious expression[s] of intolerance and lack of respect,” but he can’t take them in return.

    Yes, it’s unfortunate that Cardinal Cañizares chose to be so public with his attacks. But the LGBTQ community should be LESS public with their refutation of his attack? I don’t think so. We have to be grateful for the drag queens of Christopher Street and Stonewall, and the ACT-UP activists of the 1980s who made us uncomfortable. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them…

  4. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    Gays behaving badly will only ensconce those who are already uncomfortable and embolden those who hatevus. Nonviolent response is a long arduous process, but it works. June 12th (1964) was also the date Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment by the South African government (and when Medger Evers was assassinated in 1963). Gandhi refused to attack the British while they were engaged in war for which he was greatly criticized. MLK preached non violence as he learned it from Gandhi. Whether it is a gun, a fist, images or words, violence is not the way to go. We must take the high road and not engage in behavior that has and will continue to be inflicted upon LGBTQ people. And Jesus wept.

  5. John Raab
    John Raab says:

    Frank, Spain is famous for its audacious blaphemies–and this fits right in! Germans cuss about excrement; British and Americans about sex; and the French about God. But Spaniards combine all three at once in marvelous ways. John


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] each exchange.  At one point, a progressive organization posted a graphic on Facebook showing two traditional Spanish Madonnas engaged in a a kiss.  The cardinal launched a campaign of protest against this […]

  2. […] have. have responded by laying a formal complaint with the police against Cardinal Cañizares. The row has since escalated further, as described by Francis DeBenardo at Bondings […]

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