Dante’s Inferno is a picture of hell with 9 levels, each with greater punishments for sins committed on the earth. Dante was not afraid to place in hell Cardinals, Bishops, and Popes. Dante’s point was that corruption in the Roman Catholic Church by its leaders was just as worthy of punishment, if not more so, as sinful deeds done by pagans and government leaders. His political activity was not admired by all, but his writing exposed the abuse of power by Popes and church leaders. We hear today that Pope Francis is engaged in a similar battle, facing much entrenched opposition to his attempts to cleanse the church of its sins.
This week I met an artist, Butch Casanova, who invited me to his home. There I saw a work of art that reminded me of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He was disgusted by the corruption exposed in the pedophilia scandals that rocked the Roman Church. And putting brush to canvas, he created a great allegory of the cover up by Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston. He tried to have this work displayed through the Boston media, but at that time, no one would touch it because Bernard Law was feared and so powerful. He has since escaped to the Vatican to avoid prosecution for his knowledgeable suppression of the scandal and for allowing it to continue. Law, in his own mind at least, was perhaps on his way to becoming the first American Pope…
Because the painting is so good as an allegory I wanted to share it. I will let Butch’s explanations of the allegory complete this article. I felt this work of art deserves wider recognition, even if there are those in the hierarchy who would rather the whole scandal be swept under the rug…
NOTES ON ICONOGRAPHY
The document forming the backdrop is a page from the Missale Romanum, the standard source for the prescribed prayers for Masses honoring certain dates or personages.
In this instance, it is modeled on the Mass for a Pontiff, personalized for a speculative Pope Bernard the Great, the first of that name. The date is that of the birthday of Bernard Cardinal Law.
The millstone has a worn, but evident “quarter dress” harp pattern found on many of these implements;
The Latin sentiment rounding the face of the millstone is variously found in each of the Synoptic Gospels: St. Luke 17:2, St. Mark 9:42, and St. Matthew 18:6. The version quoted is Luke’s, from the Latin Vulgate;
Those parallel cites converge upon this main sentiment: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” New American Standard Bible (©1995);
The bishop’s mitre the Cardinal figure wears has had its center torn out, where typically a cross or the OC (Chi Rho) figure might be in a medallion;
The handheld mirror shows through its back, the image of a Papal Triple Tiara, traditionally worn by popes in coronation. The last pope to wear one at his accession to the papacy was Paul VI at his coronation in 1963;
His successors, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have later set aside this crown in favor of a bishop’s mitre, none of them styling his accession to the Papacy as a coronation;
The tiara depicted in this image was that donated by Emperor Napoleon I, for the coronation of Pius VII in March of 1800;
The serpent has the coat of arms of Bernard Cardinal Law in its jaws. On it is inscribed his motto, epitomizing a life of Christian dedication: To Live is Christ.
The priest menacing the doll is a twisted image of Fr. John Goeghan, convicted in Massachusetts for child molestation, sentenced to prison, and killed while there by a murderer sentenced to life, Joseph L. Druce;
The Male Child Doll is inspired by Raggedy Andy.