Friday, May 25, 2001

'Our Lady' Protests Planned

By Morgan Lee
Journal Staff Writer

In the wake of the decision to keep an image of a scantily clad Virgin Mary on display in Santa Fe through October, state museum officials now are promising to reconsider how they treat sensitive subjects, while local and national critics of the image are scheduling prayer vigils.

Current rules governing the Museum of New Mexico system's Sensitive Materials Committee address only how to handle sensitive Native American materials. By the committee's own admission, it was left ill-equipped to address all the concerns raised about "Our Lady." The image by Alma López is derived from the robed, bowed Virgin of Guadalupe but depicts her wearing a swimsuit of flower petals. It's now on display at the International Museum of Folk Art.

"We had found that our current policy was too narrowly based on (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and that a broader base of issues needed to be addressed," Committee Chair Anita McNeece wrote in a letter introducing final recommendations on Lopez's work. Documents became available this week when a decision to leave the work on display and close the larger exhibit "Cyber Arte" early was announced.

A pioneer in repatriating sacred Indian objects, the Museum of New Mexico — which oversees the folk art museum and several others in Santa Fe — confronted new religious issues after "Our Lady" was displayed.

"This is the first instance of outsiders claiming legitimate concern and authority over the disposition of another individual's and community's material," committee member and conservator Dale Kronkright advised his colleagues in a written message before the recommendation was made. "In that sense, the committee's consideration of these issues is a very recent invention."

The committee's recommendation to leave "Our Lady" on display earned criticism from Diocese of Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan. Catholic parishioners, strongly critical of Lopez's work, have reserved the folk art museum parking lot Saturday, posting the requisite $1,050,000 in liability insurance coverage for use of state property.

The prayer vigil starts with a march across Santa Fe from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Henry Casso of Albuquerque said the rally will concentrate on rededication to the Virgin Mary and "reparation from major offense to the mother of God under our Lady of Guadalupe."

Organizers of a similar prayer vigil in June hope to attract visitors from across the country.

The parking lot has been reserved on June 30 by America Needs Fatima, the Pennsylvania-based campaign responsible for a deluge of more than 12,000 postcards protesting the display of "Our Lady."

Flip through a thick bundle in a box full of cards and the postmarks lie scattered across the country — Cleveland; New York City; Portland, Maine; Wausau, Wis.

"We've led many other protests before," said Robert Ritchie, director of America Needs Fatima, part of the Catholic lay group American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, headquartered outside York, Pa. "This one really has hit a sensitive point in the soul of Catholics."

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property's mother chapter was founded in Brazil in 1960 by Plinio Correa de Oliveira.

The American society was founded in 1974 "in response to growing moral corruption in our country" and "to oppose the socialistic and communistic movement in our country and our world," Ritchie explained. The organization's Internet site catalogues past boycotts and publicity campaigns against a public museum in New York, media and educational programs addressing gay lifestyles, flag burning and national abortion policy under the Clinton administration.

"We're in frequent contact with people in (the Santa Fe) area that are protesting this and are extremely impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm that has been demonstrated by local Catholics," Ritchie said. "They've reacted better than other Catholic communities."

Ritchie said the June 30 event will be peaceful and law abiding. Recent protests by Santa Fe groups have deposited garbage inside the Museum of International Folk Art.

Sensitive Materials Committee Member Tom Chavez, who also is director of the Palace of the Governors, objected this week to local residents who took their complaints to the media and the streets before talking to the museum, in acts of "bad faith" negotiations.

The Sensitive Materials Committee recognized the strong feelings provoked by "Our Lady."

"The image has come to symbolize all challenges to faith in a secular world," the committee stated in a four-page commentary attached to its formal recommendation. "The image has become a focus for passionate rededication of religious faith through protest."

Copyright 2001 Albuquerque Journal