Vol 53 No 1 Autumn 2023



Title Author Topic Page
Sacred Art and Artists Elich, Tom Architecture and Environment 2
Penance O’Regan, Patrick Penance 3-5
Brisbane Makes a Passage to India Forbes, Lisa Liturgical Inculturation 5-7
Analysing the Institution Narrative Craig, Barry Eucharist / Mass 8-10
Communion from the Cup - Eucharist / Mass 10
Sacred Architecture - Architecture and Environment 10
Old Latin Mass - Ecclesiology 11
Indian Liturgy Dispute - Ecclesiology 11
National Liturgical Council - Revitalising parish practices 11
Liturgy in Ukraine - Liturgy - Other Churches/Religions 11
Societas Liturgica - Catechesis - liturgical 12
Mystery and Mission Conference - Catechesis - liturgical 12
Aboriginal Mass - Liturgical Inculturation 12
Pope Francis on Liturgical Leadership - Catechesis - liturgical 13
Position Vacant - People 13
Abu Dhabi Interfaith Complex - Liturgy - Other Churches/Religions 13
Our Cover - Liturgy Snapshots: Hearing the Word - Liturgy of the Word 13
If the psalm cannot be sung... Fitz-Herbert, John Music 14-15
Celebrating with God on the Beach Parkin, Evelyn Enid Indigenous Australians 16-17
Books: Edward Foley - Eucharistic Adoration after Vatican II Cronin, James Eucharist / Mass 17-18


Sacred Art and Artists

Elich, Tom

Some decades ago, when I was first involved in commissioning a work of sacred art for a church, a parishioner asked me if the artist was a Catholic.
I was taken aback, wondering what difference this could make. The parish had prepared a brief and the artist had responded well to the brief; how important is the artist’s personal belief or behaviour?

This question comes up with alarming regularity, not least in these days of ‘zero tolerance’ with respect to abusive relationships. The most recent
controversy concerns the Jesuit artist Marko Rupnik. Accusations of spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse extending over thirty years have come to light, some of them in relation to an order of sisters he co-founded in Slovenia, others related to an extensive career in teaching and spiritual direction. As the story has unfolded, restrictions on his ministry have been tightened, including a directive to refrain from any further public artistic activity; he has already been restricted in sacramental ministry and giving talks or retreats, and banned from leaving the area of Rome. Jesuit investigations are continuing.

What happens now to his artistic output?

It is extensive. He has designed logos and artworks for the Vatican and decorated a papal chapel and 200 other churches. His mosaics cover entire  walls of worship spaces at Lourdes and Fatima, at John Paul II shrines in Washington and Krakow, a cathedral in Madrid, the shrine of Padre Pio in  Italy, and even a church in the Archdiocese of Brisbane (see Liturgy News 2018). Of course, there are calls for the work to be removed, coming especially from survivors groups who are deeply offended by the presence of this work in sacred spaces for worship. These days, we recognise that something of the artist is expressed in the created work of art.

The question is not new. There are dozens of famous artists whose lifestyle and actions are questionable but whose work adorns churches. The great sculptor and architect Bernini (1598-1680), for example, who designed the great baldacchino over the altar at St Peter’s in Rome and the circular colonnade in front of the basilica enjoyed the patronage of popes but is compromised by domestic abuse. More notorious still is Caravaggio (1571-1610) whose dramatic work represents the very pinnacle of religious art in the churches of Rome; he was frequently involved in violent brawling and was convicted and jailed for murder. More recently, there have been on-going calls for the stations of the cross in Westminster Cathedral in London to be removed. They are the work of religious sculptor and graphic designer Eric Gill (1882-1940) whose diaries revealed thirty years ago unhealthy sexual relations, including incest with his sisters and daughters.

Reflecting on these historical and current examples, I think it is important for us to make a distinction between the artist and the artwork. Once it is created, a work of art takes on a life of its own, separate from the artist, in a new architectural and communal context. The sculpture, window or mural leaves the artist’s studio and becomes part of our church building, part of our life and liturgy and devotion. Acceptance of an artwork does not mean that we acquiesce in the artist’s behaviour, whether it is publicly known or not. What happens to the artist need not happen also to the work
of art. We recognise that all human beings are sinners, even the saints! Of course, we would not engage an artist whose life is a public scandal and it is another matter when a work itself enshrines values that are contrary to those of the Church, but this presumably should have been obvious from the beginning when the work was being commissioned.

Catholic theology has worked out a rationale for this approach in relation to the sacraments. It does not correspond exactly to the question of art, but perhaps the instinct here can be transferred. In theology, there is the principle of ex opere operato. This means that the validity of a sacrament
depends on the correct form and the power of God, not on the worthiness of the minister. It provided security for the Church because the sacraments enacted by a priest who has engaged in dissolute behaviour remain valid. In the case of sacred art for our churches, if the artist’s brief has been properly constructed, if the artist has responded well to the brief and the work has been accepted as an authentic expression of the faith of the community, then we can be confident in allowing it its existence independent of its creator.

This approach also fits with a common model of communication and interpretation. There is a sender, a message, and a receiver. Meaning does not reside solely with the sender, but also with the message itself and is constructed by the one who receives it. The hermeneutical act is not just an
attempt to reconstruct the mindset of the author (the world behind the text), but also an attempt to analyse the structure of the text itself and the way it is received by the hearer (the world in front of the text). With a work of art, we analyse the work itself and the place it has been given in the architecture and life of the community.

The question is broader too than works of art. The same dilemma arises for composers of liturgical music. Many places, for example, have quietly dropped the music of David Haas from their repertoire in order to respect the sensibilities of survivors. This can be done for a time until, in the future, when the situation is not so raw, some good works could be reintroduced. They too should be judged on their own merits. However this is not so easy to do when mosaics or windows are an integral part of a church building, though a moveable work could be placed somewhere else for a time so as not to offend.

Whatever strategy is adopted, pastoral care should be the primary concern of the Church, care not only for survivors but for the whole parish community.