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The Archdiocese of Boston called a billboard depicting the Virgin Mary holding a dead chicken “offensive” and said that it should be removed “as soon as possible.” The ad, which appeared along a Boston highway days before Christmas, is intended to promote vegetarian lifestyles, according to the animal rights group that sponsors it.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an organization known for its controversial approach to raising awareness of animal rights and protections, is running the billboard campaign. The billboard faces north along McLellan Highway near the entrance to Logan Airport and is a tri-vision, rotating billboard.
The archdiocese released a statement Dec. 23 denouncing the ad, which plays on the innocent and sinless nature of the Blessed Mother in its tagline “ Go Vegetarian — It’s An Immaculate Conception.”
The billboard insults the figure of the Blessed Virgin who has been “venerated and honored as the greatest of saints by the Catholic community throughout its history,” said the archdiocese. The concept of the Immaculate Conception is used only in reference to the Virgin Mary because of her “uniqueness as the sinless Mother of God.”
The archdiocese deplored PETA’s approach to promoting vegetarianism through the religious figure of Mary, especially around Christmas.
“The use by PETA of the Virgin Mary’s image and her unique and holy title as the Immaculate Conception in this manner is offensive at any time but most especially during this holy season of Christmas,” said the archdiocese. “Why any organization would seek to garner goodwill for itself and its message by promoting an ad campaign that is so offensive to a large number of people within the community is unclear.”
“What is clear is that if PETA truly cares about ethical behavior, the billboard message should be taken down as soon as possible,” the archdiocese continued in the statement.
According to PETA spokesperson William Rivas-Rivas, the ad was intentionally scheduled to go up during the Christmas season to play on the religious beliefs of Catholics. He said the ad will run at the Boston site for one month.
“Our intention was to put it up during the holiday season because it’s a message about compassion and we want people to extend that compassion to animals,” said Rivas-Rivas. “It’s a religious billboard and everyone should be offended by how animals are treated so horrifically especially people of faith and that is why we chose that billboard.”
Rivas-Rivas called the billboard’s depiction of Mary respectful and stated that PETA does not find the billboard insulting to Catholics in anyway.
“What’s really offensive is that we take animals, which are God’s creatures, and treat them so horrifically” in slaughterhouses and on factory farms, he said. “That is what makes a mockery of God. That is what is truly offensive.”
Rivas-Rivas defended the controversial campaign slogan saying that it was designed and executed by a “practicing Roman Catholic,” PETA director Bruce Friedrich. He also added that the image of Mary was painted by a ‘Marian priest.’
“Some of the most sacred representations of the Holy Mother have depicted her concern for oppressed people, but to suggest that her love was only limited to human beings is irrational,” he continued. “This image is of her lovingly holding a chicken suggesting that we should extend our compassion and love to animals.”
While sections 2415 through 2418 of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” state that animals should be respected as part of God’s creation, it explains that animals are not equally deserving of the respect due to humans. The wellbeing and needs of humans supersedes that of animals, says the Catechism.
“Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present and future humanity,” says section 2415.
On its website, PETA contends that meat-eaters trangress the will of God. “You have a choice. When you sit down to eat, you can add to the level of violence, misery, and death in the world, or you can respect God’s original plan with a vegetarian diet,” the website says.
However, the Catechism clearly states that humans, created in God’s image, have dominion over animals. According to section 2417, it is morally permissible to use them for food and clothing, to domesticate them for both “work and leisure,” and even to utilize them in “reasonable” medical and scientific experimentation “since it contributes to caring for or saving human lives.”
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts released a statement similar to the archdiocese’s calling the ad campaign “a cynical and manipulative publicity stunt, deliberately offending Catholics during the joyous season of Christmas.”
Catholic Action League executive director C.J. Doyle denounced PETA’s campaign method saying that the organization gains publicity “by expropriating and exploiting the sacred symbols of others.”
“This billboard demeans the Blessed Mother, trivializes the Immaculate Conception, and demonstrates a callous contempt for the sensibilities of Catholics,” Doyle continued.
He encouraged Catholics to contact the billboard’s owner with their complaints. According to PETA, Boston Billboards owns the billboard, which features the ad on Rt. 1A.
The ad appeared in East Providence, R.I., in late November, but was removed one week later after receiving negative reaction from many local leaders including the Bishop Robert E. Mulvee of the Diocese of Providence, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and Mayor Rolland Grant of East Providence. The ad was vandalized at least twice.
According to Rivas-Rivas no precautions against vandalism to the Boston billboard are currently being taken. The cities of Boston and Providence were chosen to feature the ad because of their large Catholic populations. The ad campaign has also been run in cities such Springfield, Mo., and Toronto, Canada.