Catholic Magazine Stirs New Muhammad Cartoon Controversy

The Guardian reports on yet another Muhammad cartoon controversy, this time from Italy:

A cartoon depicting Muhammed in hell has been published by an Italian magazine close to Opus Dei, bringing angry criticism from Muslim groups and disapproval from the Vatican.

The drawing in Studi cattolici takes its inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which the 14th-century poet imagines being guided through hell by the Latin poet Virgil, and sees the prophet cut in two as his punishment for spreading division. In the cartoon, Virgil points out another figure to Dante, saying: “And that one there with his pants down, that’s Italian policy towards Islam.” The caption uses a play on words to suggest Italy has chickened out in its attitude to Muslims.

However, the reports are somewhat inaccurate; Muhammad doesn’t actually appear in the cartoon in person (see reproduction at this virulently anti-Islam blog). An Agence France-Presse report in the Washington Times gives the magazine editor’s view:

Sometimes a politically incorrect satirical cartoon can do some good. It’s only a reference to a passage in [Dante’s] Divine Comedy,” Mr. [Cesare] Cavalleri said.

Cavalleri’s perspective, though, does not appear to be shared by his Opus Dei colleagues. In response to the Da Vinci Code movie, Opus Dei’s press office made the following statement back in February:

…we continue to hope that the final version of the film will not contain references that might hurt Catholics. A conciliatory gesture like this would be much appreciated, especially in these times when we are all lamenting the painful consequences of intolerance.

A 2003 article from La Chiesa gives a bit of background for the Studi Cattolici magazine:

The “Studi Cattolici” (“Catholic Studies”) monthly is directed by Cesare Cavalleri, an Opus Dei numerary, and is printed by Ares, the publishing house that has exclusive rights in Italy for the works of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. While it doesn’t officially represent the thinking of Opus, the journal was born of the group and moves in the same direction.

The reason for La Chiesa’s interest at that time was because Cavalleri had decided to produce a special issue attacking “anti-Americanism” and offering “a robust eulogy of America – as well as the America that fought in Iraq”. More recently, Cavalleri has been a prominent signatory of the “Manifesto in Defence of the West and Its Christian roots”, launched by Forza Italia party MP Marcello Pera. Views from Rome explains:

[Signers] include Roberto de Mattei (editor of Radici Cristiane), Giovanni Cantoni (editor of Cristianità), Cesare Cavalleri (Studi Cattolici), Giovanni Cesana (Comunione e Liberazione), and Bruno Dallapiccola, president of the Committee Scienza & Vita and a member of the Bioethics Committee.

In what some considered a sign of support, Benedict XVI received Pera in the Vatican on March 4, on the very last day allowed by the Vatican protocol for institutional audiences to be held, namely 35 days prior to an election.

Roberto de Mattei featured on this blog a few weeks ago, when he appeared in reports about a curiously mysterious academic conference that sought to revise historical understanding of the Crusades; Comunione e Liberazione is a charismatic Catholic grouping which includes Rocco Buttiglione among its members – Buttiglione was profiled on this blog here.

Meanwhile, why exactly Studi Cattolici believes that “Italy has chickened out in its attitude to Muslims” is not explained (at least in English-language media).

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)