California Catholic Daily reported today that the Jesuit parish had the confessionals that took up the eastern alcove of St. Ignatius Church (at the University of San Francisco) removed so that it could open its new Manresa Gallery inside the Church. Here's part of what the news letter had to say in explanation:
"Formed by four interior alcoves, which previously housed confessional boxes, the gallery is a permanent testament to St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Composition of Place… In keeping with Ignatius’ understanding that his Constitutions or governing rules for Jesuits would include old principles and new ones, the gallery’s philosophy is to include both traditional religious works and contemporary art in a series of changing exhibitions. Commissioned pieces will enhance the dialogue that take places on a larger scale within the ritual space of the church."I wonder what St. Ignatius would have thought about displaying images of pagan Gods inside of a Catholic Church? I wonder if that would have been included when he thought of "new ideas." My educated guess is No.
Let's read on to see what the author of the CalCatholic.com article, Gibbons Cooney, found when he hiked over to USF to see the gallery for himself:
"The current exhibition is “The Arts of Java and Bali: Objects of Belief, Ritual and Performance.” One of the pieces in the show is an hermaphroditic wooden figurine, with female breasts and a male erection. Another is a hairy demonic figure with a women’s face protruding from its mouth. Another is a brightly colored, scaled, demonic figure."Gibbons analysis of the situation is dead on:
"If a Catholic (or a pagan for that matter) ignores for a moment the impropriety of introducing pagan ritual objects into a Catholic church and instead considers that the church has removed its confessionals, which were an integral part of the original plan of the church both architecturally and sacramentally, and replaced them with an art gallery, the experience becomes stranger still.They must not need confessionals in San Francisco because no one sins in that most perfect city by the sea.
As Fr. Blaettler said, the motivation was to “enhance the dialogue that take places on a larger scale within the ritual space of the church.” Those at St. Ignatius who replaced the confessionals might argue that they are showing respect for other cultures by installing the gallery. If so, I think they are wrong. The prevalence of the art gallery, a place where man-made objects are considered under their aesthetic aspect alone, is a recent Western phenomenon. Reducing the “Objects of Belief, Ritual and Performance” into aesthetic objects by placing them in a gallery is, as they say at USF, cultural imperialism.
And, of course, they showed no respect whatsoever for the culture that built St. Ignatius Church -- a culture to whom sacramental confession, and confessionals (not “confessional boxes”) were a basic fact of religious life. Ironically, the reduction of the Balinese and Javanese artworks into aesthetic objects “de-sacramentalizes” them just as much as the gallery de-sacramentalizes the church."
I strongly recommend clicking here to read the entire article.