ACTION ITEM! Milwaukee Art Museum – Anti-Catholic offense! @MilwaukeeArt

You may have heard about the highly offensive move of the Milwaukee Art Museum.  They displayed a “portrait” of Benedict XVI made from colored condoms.  That’s just plain nasty.

The Vicar General of the Diocese of Madison, Msgr. James Bartylla, wrote a letter to the Museum.  He shared it with me.  I have his permission to share it with you.  He also wrote:

[F]eel free to tell you readers that I encourage them to write to the Milwaukee Art Museum ( to communicate their displeasure, with civility and respect (and with appropriate vigor and articulation), at this “artistic” display of such poor taste.

Here is his letter:

Dear Milwaukee Art Museum (cc: Communication Director – Archdiocese of Milwaukee),

As a priest of the Diocese of Madison, the decision by the Milwaukee Art Museum to acquire and prominently display a controversial portrait of His Holiness Benedict XVI fashioned from 17,000 colored condoms is very offensive to civility and decorum for the general public and is profoundly disrespectful and even blasphemous to the Catholic faithful.

If a piece were as offensive to other faith traditions or communities would it be equally tolerated by you?

I firmly stand behind Most Reverend Jerome Listecki, Archbishop of Milwaukee, in seeing your decision as insulting and callous. I was born and raised in Milwaukee.  I want you to know that I will not attend the Milwaukee Art Museum, and I will advocate to others not to attend the museum and not to subscribe to memberships to the museum.  I will advocate to others to notify you of their extreme displeasure at your poor decision.

If you remove this item not only from display but also from the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum and do not forward it for public display or collection elsewhere, I will reconsider my decision in order to allow you a chance in justice to rectify your poor decision for the common good.

I await your reply.

Respectfully, Monsignor James Bartylla

Okay, folks… adopt this strategy and share on the interwebs.   Let’s get something going.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ACTION ITEM!, Be The Maquis, Our Catholic Identity, Si vis pacem para bellum!, The Coming Storm, The Last Acceptable Prejudice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. David in T.O. says:

    I used Monsignor’s letter and added his name after the Bishop’s and changed the text to come from me.

  2. A.D. says:

    Email sent to MAM,

    Dear Milwaukee Art Museum,
    I ask you kindly to rethink your decision to display a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI made from condoms. The thought of such a portrait is distressing to me because I am Catholic and respect the person of the former pope. He is a good and gentle man and deserves respect as a human being.

    Can you imagine someone doing such a thing to represent your father or mother, sister or brother, or anyone else you love and respect? Can you imagine such “art” next to the Mona Lisa or the Venus rising from the sea? What is someone altered the statue of David with one of those condoms?

    This kind of “art” is not art but a deliberate and disgusting act of bigotry toward the Catholic Church. For Milwaukee Art Museum to display this makes them part of that act and diminishes the respect and support from the majority of people of good manners.

    Please consider your reputation, if nothing else, and remove this dreadful piece from display and circulation. Stand up for true art and graciousness.

    Thank you,

    [My Name]
    [My city, state]

  3. A.D. says:

    Should be what “if” in 2nd paragraph. Sorry.

  4. catholiccomelately says:

    Polite letter sent, Father.

  5. Dienekes says:

    Not sure if the art museum is connected with the rest of the Milwaukee Museum but suspect it is. Many years ago as a kid on visits to relatives in Milwaukee I’d go to the museum; it was the start of my fascination with history and historical objects. My particular focus was on the
    Nunnemacher Arms Collection; then and now one of the oldest and finest in the US. On one visit there as a college student I ran into a kindly old man who asked my what my specific area of interest was. He was the then curator of the collection, and took me on a personal tour of all the arms NOT on display and in storage. Dazzling stuff.

    What a difference 50 years makes. In all respects.

  6. Dienekes says:

    Forget to mention–that collection has now been consigned to the warehouse shown in the “Lost Ark Of The Covenant. The staff virtually denied its existence last time I checked.

    I’d imagine similar things happened in the old Soviet Union, too.

  7. MarkJ says:

    Sent an email. I encourage every reader to do the same. In one article I read they said they only had 200 complaints! I think we can get that number up…

  8. Dick Verbo says:

    Courteous email sent.

  9. Alanmac says:

    I wrote the MAM and told them they use soft targets with Catholics as they won’t get much push back. It’s like picking on the obese, no organized push back.
    Accordingly, in the spirit of ecumenism, I suggested they display a portrait of Mohammed made of condoms. Chances of that? Zero because they may get bloody push back and the cowards are only interested in easy pickings.

  10. Knittingfoole says:

    Alanmac, you hit the nail on the head.

  11. Sonshine135 says:

    Dear Milwaukee Art Museum,

    Please reconsider the display of our Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI that you have in your possession, fashioned from 17,000 condoms. While I understand the artist’s desire to lash out at the Catholic Church’s stance on artificial birth control, such art is extremely offensive to Catholics such as myself, and shows a lack of tolerance and respect for those of us who profess and live the faith.

    Also, I am sure that without question, Milwaukee Art Museum would not even consider displaying a similarly made portrait of the Prophet Mohammad.

    Just because we can do and say things does not always mean we should. I respectfully ask for your reconsideration.

    Thank you ,

  12. wanda says:

    Polite but stern email sent.

  13. roma247 says:

    Look, folks, writing to an art museum, telling it that its art is trash (even when done nicely) is like trying to tell the Emperor he has no clothes. He’s convinced otherwise and thinks you are nothing but a poor cretin without his obviously superior taste. Complete waste of time. They’ve hit the delete key after the first three words.

    The people we should be writing to are the SPONSORS of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Gee folks, are you really happy with what your money is paying for? If not, maybe you’ll want to let the MAM know you’ll be thinking twice about support in the future.

    That’s where the power is: it’s where the money is, as usual…

    It’s difficult to discover who the major sponsors are, but I noticed on the MAM’s sponsorship page, that they’ve just made a partnership with Meijer. So let’s get some e-mails sent off to Meijer.

    On their homepage, it looks like Quad Graphics and Milwaukee Magazine are sponsoring their Lakefront Art Festival. And Kohl’s has sponsored an art initiative for children with the MAM…now there’s a good one to write to…gee, Kohl’s, are you really going to encourage children to visit an art museum that displays something like this?

    If anyone else knows the names of some more corporate sponsors of the MAM, could you please post them here? We’ll write to them too.

    Father Z, perhaps you might consider updating your original post with some of the above, so that those who don’t see the comments section will see this? That way we can really get the ball rolling and who knows? Maybe we’ll see a difference. :)

  14. Knittingfoole says:

    I suspect those corporate sponsors are on board with this, or would be if they knew about it. Our dollars are meaning less and less. For instance, I know plenty who are boycotting Starbucks or Home Depot, but I don’t think they have been hit really hard. We have lots more work to do on this score. Let them know what we think with our spending.

  15. yatzer says:

    I know it’s mostly whistling in the wind, but who knows? Polite email sent.

  16. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    I think writing to museum donors is a great idea. We should not be deterred by the apparent futility of our protests. We never know when there might be some good result and, besides, we are not required to be successful, whatever that might be, only to do our best.

    I even write to the U.S. bishops from time to time.

  17. SanSan says:

    Disgusting and I sent off my objection to them. Also sent to other Faithful who will do their part to stand up for Jesus Christ in this way.

  18. SanSan says:

    I regret to inform you that the devil is again showing his ugly head…

    … and this time on Broadway.

    An Act of God

    According to press reports, this play is an up-to-date rewrite of the Ten Commandments. The TV actor Jim Parsons impersonates God.

    It is a mockery from beginning to end. An outrage!

    Here is a selection from the play, see below.

    Advisory: this is SHOCKING!
    In his new Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate.” “Yes, I mean the gays.”
    To explain his new Second Commandment, “God” then tells that, in the beginning, he actually did make Adam and Steve. And the serpent was gay… And to punish Steve with “the harshest punishment possible: Transforming thee from carefree young [homosexual] lovers living in the heart of everything, to a married couple with kids stuck in the suburbs,” “God” had to perform a sex-change operation on Steve
    “God finally admits that he allows human suffering because “I’m a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist” — just like the human beings He created in His image. “You are my best creation,” he reminds us, “and I’m your worst.”
    CLICK HERE to tell Broadway this ISN’T funny.

    The world is really pushing it.

    And did you know that according to serious statistics, the amount of natural disasters around the world have increased dramatically in the past 30 years? It is really scary.

    But when you read what they are doing in this play, An Act of God, you begin to understand what is going on…

    Here is a few more…
    And it seems “God” had the angel Gabriel give us the Muslim Koran. God notes that the angel “doesn’t just do the Bible,” but also “dictated the words of the Quran to Muhammed. (Don’t think that Broadway finally gave equal offense to Islam. “God” continues: “That, of course, was the beginning of Islam, and at the request of the producers, that is the last you’ll be hearing about Islam tonight.”)
    And God is indifferent: “Gay, straight, bisexual, transgender; thou art all equally smite-able in my eyes.”
    And God has low self-esteem and certainly doesn’t think He’s perfect. Abraham’s test of his love of God by obediently beginning to sacrifice his son in prefigure to God offering His Son in sacrifice is commented on by “God”: “It was only then that I first began to consider the possibility that there was something seriously wrong with me.”
    We cannot reproduce most of the samples of mockery and blasphemy.

    I don’t know about you, but this reminds me of those people who were mocking God before the great flood, in the time of Noah.

    This is biblical!

    But what is most important is that we don’t allow ourselves to get used to blasphemy.

    And that we continue to offer our own reparation for these blasphemies. In our hearts.

    Please defend the honor of the One, True God.

    Respectfully Protest Broadway play HERE!

    And of course the Broadway theatre critics bray in approval at such bold blaspheming.

    “WICKEDLY IRREVERENT!” shouts the Hollywood Reporter

    “…blithely blasphemous…” Time Out New York

    ‘‘DELIRIOUSLY, DIVINELY FUNNY! JIM PARSONS IS PERFECTION! If God were really as adorable and funny as Jim Parsons, perhaps many more of us would be minding our morals, rapaciously atoning for our sins and generally doing unto others as we would like to be done unto, all in the hopes of a breezy welcome at the pearly gates.” …gushes The New York Times

    ‘‘There aren’t many lies you can tell about God that organized religion hasn’t told already: He is loving; He rewards the faithful; He is a He; and the biggest crock of all—that He exists.” Time Out New York

    Catholic America and friends of God…

    Respectfully FIGHT BACK at Broadway HERE!

    And may the one, true God bless you in this life and the next for showing your love of Him and His Holy Name! …such is my prayer for you!

    I remain, your friend,

    In Jesus and Mary,

    Robert E. Ritchie
    America Needs Fatima

  19. John V says:

    Museum sponsors and donors (for last year) can be found in the 2014 annual report at pp. 45-55. Several corporations, and lots of foundations and trusts among the biggest donors. Note at the end that the County of Milwaukee apparently makes the facility available, and the Museum also gets public funding from the City of Milwaukee, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

  20. frjim4321 says:

    All I can say is I hope the artist did not use staples to attach the condoms. That would seem to destroy the integrity of the piece … and the “pieces.”

    There is so much anger out there that has been portrayed artistically. The SNL piece where the “artist” tore a picture of the pope comes to mind. And the urine piece “P—- Christ,” which seemed so grotesque to me. I don’t admire, condone, or commend those statements.

    I think there have been some prelates in Africa who have made some rather unscientific statements about condoms, and some who believe that such sentiments have exacerbated the HIV crisis … I suspect that anger might be driving the piece in question, but I really don’t know. Does anyone know?

    On the other hand, there were some criticisms of sacred sculpture made from elephant dung, but in some contexts that is considered a very important medium. I just don’t get it.

    I don’t really get the plastic arts … but before I criticize I try to understand.

  21. comedyeye says:

    Is the Archdiocese of Milwaukee leading a peaceful protest outside the museum and making sure pastors are telling the faithful not to support this trash?

  22. Clinton says:

    Of course the New York Times has published an article about this “art”, complete
    with color photograph of the piece in question and an almost gleeful description of the
    offense it has given Catholics. Such hypocrisy! This is the same New York Times that
    so recently sanctimoniously announced that it wouldn’t publish photos from the recent
    “Draw Muhommad” cartoon contest that had been the subject of a terrorist attack—
    because, they said, such photos might offend Muslims.

    That said, I’ve emailed the MAM, and am writing an email to send to Kohl’s, as per Roma247’s
    excellent advice above.

  23. Fr. Jim,

    It’s one thing to make a piece of art to evoke a thoughtful response. But in this case, the delivered message only sends daggers. There is nothing further about the portrait to discover an opportunity to explore its meaning, investigate an interpretation, or strive for its understanding. This is just a hit piece, period. A much hated pope by the Left has been clawed at – nothing more.

  24. Mary Jane says:

    A.D., thank you for posting your note – I borrowed it (hope you don’t mind!) and used it as a template to send an email as well.

  25. yzerman123 says:

    I sent a polite email asking if they’d display a portrait of President Obama made with a mosaic of Confederate flags. Awaiting response. ;)

  26. rodin says:

    In checking on the web I found a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that states that “Several longtime friends of the museum have canceled their membership in protest, and one docent resigned.” Am currently drafting a letter to the museum and will write to sponsors as well.

  27. rodin says:

    Letter to MAM

    Daniel T. Keegan, Director
    Milwaukee Art Museum
    700 North Art Museum Drive
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202-4007

    Dear Mr. Keegan:

    It is not necessary to be a Catholic to feel that one’s artistic sensibilities have been assaulted by the artistically gross, not to mention insulting, portrait of Pope Benedict.

    Since I am not familiar with your museum I checked on the web and it appears that your collection contains a number of very fine works that would make excellent exhibition material. What a pity that you have chosen to embarrass the museum by advertising this ill-conceived work of non-art that throws into question your own competence, as well as that of your staff, to select works of art.

    I also notice that you are advertising job openings. It is earnestly to be hoped that they will soon be filled with competent art historians.

    Yours sincerely,

  28. MouseTemplar says:

    A charitable, albeit pointed email sent. And I shared the story with everyone I know. Since I’m out of a job at the moment, perhaps I’ll drop them my resume and offer to curate their collection!

  29. MouseTemplar says:

    Well this has SO gotten under my skin that I made a call to the museum to voice my concern. The person who took my call was very gracious and said they have a goodly number of people calling them about the same issue. She said she was taking notes and will pass on my opinions. Her only defence was that the artist was local and they wnated to offer local artists a venue. I suggested they consider other local artists who had more to offer and who didn’t supply insult to the Catholic and Christian population. If the artist is at odds with the Church’s stance on birth control, she could voice it in a more charitable, less offensive way. That said, it was a polite conversation–she said they were not going to display this piece until November so we could perhaps still prevent it from actually appearing in the planned exhibit.

  30. Kathleen10 says:

    Roma247, great and accurate point. We can do both for best results. Hit the entity and the sponsors. Money is the thing, hit em where the money is.
    I wonder at the fact that there are far more real Christians than there are atheists or Christian in Name Only types. One of our biggest problems is there is no organization between Protestants and Catholics in political or cultural realms. If this changed and we truly united to work together on things, we would see tremendous impact in many areas and start to gain the necessary respect and consideration on matters such as these. This has potential to ripple out to larger causes.
    But as of yet, we are like the people of Babel, who cannot talk to each other. Perhaps at some point God will anoint a person or entity (who will break through our trepidation about either) that will enable a consensus and happy collaboration to take on this evil, stinking culture.

  31. Kathleen10 says:

    Imagine boycotts that encompass Catholics AND Protestants working together!

Comments are closed.