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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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‘Crucified cow’ on display at center of Catholic church, locals outraged

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
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Catholics in Kuttekoven, Belgium pray the Rosary outside Saint John the Baptist Church, where the 'crucified cow' is on display.

November 23, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Local Catholics in a Belgian town are outraged as a cruciform cow has been erected as art at the center of a consecrated Catholic church. They are urging the local bishop to have it removed and offer public prayers of reparation.

The “art” exhibit by Tom Herck is to be displayed until early December in the small parish church of Saint John the Baptist of Kuttekoven, in the Flemish town of Borgloon.

Last Sunday, a group of several dozen Catholics came to pray and demonstrate in front of the religious building where occasional Masses are still read, asking for the local bishop, Mgsr. Patrick Hoogmartens, to intervene.

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The “artist” went through the grueling process of actually nailing the 500 kg corpse of a cow to a cross before covering it with silicone paint: it is the resulting mold that hangs, “crucified” in the center of the church as a sneering mockery of one of the most sacred images of the Catholic faith: that of the crucified God and Saviour of mankind.

In contemporary art, by far the most important part of an opus resides in the “discourse” – or, more appropriately, gibberish – that surrounds it. The installation in Borgloon, Tom Herck is happy to explain, aims to make a stand against modern wastefulness. The cow on the cross, surmounting a basin containing 5,000 litres of milk, is supposed to symbolize industrial breeding and thrown-away food. Visitors are welcomed with beef and cheese appetizers.

The choice of a church supposedly points to wasted architectural space in a time of housing shortage. Herck openly admits he is particularly seeking to attract attention to the “innumerable” churches that remain empty in Flanders on Sundays because, he says, the Flemish are no longer interested in “insufferably tedious Masses.”

The group of faithful Catholics of the not-for-profit association Katholiek Forum who organized the protest on Sunday together with their president, Dries Goethals, mobilized at least one religious and many lay people. They prayed the rosary in front of the old parish church, carrying a banner with the words: “Stop blasphemy and degenerate art: pray for reparation.”

Their peaceful demonstration came after two separate incidents which they unreservedly condemned: an attempt to dislodge the so-called “Holy Cow” by vandals who broke a stained-glass window to try to saw the ropes by which it hangs with a knife on a pole, as well as arson in a nearby deconsecrated mediaeval chapel – now a municipal museum – containing other exhibits pertaining to the installation.

Katholiek Forum say the local diocese has been slow to act on the blasphemous installation in the church of Saint John the Baptist, which has never been deconsecrated and where religious services are still held. They say the “crucified cow” is a “satanic image and a disgusting insult to God and Catholicism.”

“We are disappointed by Patrick Hoogmartens. He has done nothing against this self-styled work of art because he wants to avoid confrontation. He is terrified by the media. That is why we came to pray here, because Catholicism has been dishonored,” said Dries Goethals.

Shortly after the installation was opened to the public at the beginning of the month, the diocese of Hasselt published this reaction as its sole response:

The diocese of Hasselt is astonished at the ‘Holy Cow’ exhibition in the church of Kuttekoven. We are always ready to collaborate in dialogue with art projects in a church, and we can certainly appreciate humor. But a cow on the cross, on the spot where Christ hung on the cross, that is to our mind really a bridge too far. Transformation is a trend in the art world. Deep symbolism, such as that of the cross, cannot however receive another meaning just like that. That can be hurtful or come across as a will to ridicule. Even though the church of Kuttekoven is soon to be deconsecrated, we find this way of changing its destination unbecoming. Or should we perhaps today consider certain forms of art as the ‘holy cow’?

The statement was published on November 7 and was not followed by any form of action on the part of the Catholic diocese of Hasselt to put an end to the defilement of the image of the crucified Christ in a church that, to LifeSite’s knowledge, still belongs to it. If not, similarly to other religious buildings that are property of the State in Belgium, the Catholic Church at least has full sovereignty over its use.

LifeSite has tried to obtain further information from the diocese of Hasselt by telephone but was told that the communications director being away on sick leave, no one was available to answer questions. Talks were supposedly being held at the bishopric to write a new press release. This has not been forthcoming.

Large numbers of Catholic churches and chapels have been deconsecrated in Belgium over the last decades and many more are expected to go the same way, as religious practice continues to fall with less than 5 percent of regular church-goers.

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