Such thuggery in the service of the Holy Church.
Who would Jesus threaten?
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES (Transcript)
COOPER: Well, with the start of Holy Week just two days away, tonight, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York is marking a victory. A controversial exhibit has been canceled. And two artists are in virtual hiding. Art and religion have clashed before, but never quite like this, at least not here in New York.
Here’s CNN’s Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Because of threats they say they have received, an artist and his wife do not want to meet at their home. So, instead, we get together at a New York City diner to talk about:
COSIMO CAVALLARO, ARTIST: “Sweet Jesus.”
TUCHMAN: This is “Sweet Jesus,” a life-size anatomically correct sculpture of Jesus made out of 200 pounds of chocolate, created by New York artist Cosimo Cavallaro.
An art gallery in this New York City hotel scheduled its debut for this Monday.
C. CAVALLARO: The purpose of “Sweet Jesus” is for me to portray that iconic image with a taste.
TUCHMAN: But many, including the New York Archdiocese and the Catholic League, say it’s scandalous.
KIERA MCCAFFREY, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: They are saying: We are taking a devout Christian image of the crucified Christ, and we are making him into chocolate, with genitals exposed. They’re digging the knife at Christians on this. And to try to pretend otherwise is absurd. And they’re doing it at our holiest time.
C. CAVALLARO: Here, we have chocolate, which is nothing negative — no negative connotation to chocolate, and the body of Christ, you know, the figure of Christ. So, how two wrongs make one — two rights make one wrong, that, I could never imagine.
TUCHMAN: But the Catholic league asked for a boycott of the hotel and says the sculpture, also known as “Chocolate Jesus,” is hate speech.
MCCAFFREY: They surely wouldn’t do something similar to Muslims. you want to bet that they would never put up a naked chocolate statue of Mohammed, with his genitals exposed, during Ramadan?
TUCHMAN: There have been many similar controversies.
The former mayor of New York and current presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani threatened to withdraw funding from a Brooklyn museum, after it featured the Virgin Mary with elephant dung.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Of course it’s Catholic bashing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Rap singer Kanye West raised hackles by appearing on “Rolling Stone” magazine in this fashion, in support of his song “Jesus Walks.”
And then there’s Madonna. A few months ago, NBC removed footage of Madonna suspended from a giant cross, which was to be included on a prime-time special.
So, would this artist create a sculpture called “Sweet Mohammed”?
C. CAVALLARO: No.
TUCHMAN (on camera): why?
C. CAVALLARO: It’s not my religion. And I didn’t — I have no need to get close to that. This is what I had do, is to get closer to my religion.
TUCHMAN: You’re a Christian?
C. CAVALLARO: Yes. I’m a Christian, a Catholic.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): And now the controversy has taken a new twist. The gallery and hotel have backed down.
On Friday, the hotel released a statement saying, “We have caused the cancellation of the exhibition and wish to affirm the dignity and responsibility of the hotel in all its affairs.”
The Cavallaros are upset, but not at the gallery.
SARAH CAVALLARO, WIFE OF COSIMO CAVALLARO: I feel that they were really scared and they were protecting themselves.
TUCHMAN: And, as for his sculpture…
(on camera): Where is “Chocolate Jesus” right now?
C. CAVALLARO: In a refrigerator truck, looking for a home.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): … don’t be surprised to see “Sweet Jesus” in a different gallery some time soon.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.
COOPER: Well, I don’t think it’s our job here on 360 to tell you what to think about something. We just ask the questions and help you decide.
A few minutes ago, I talked to artist Cosimo Cavallaro and the man who worked to shut down his exhibit, Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League.
COOPER: Cosimo, I want to start by asking you what your intention was with — with this — this piece of art.
C. CAVALLARO: My intention was to celebrate this body of Christ, and in a sweet, delicious, tasteful way.
COOPER: Why — why use chocolate?
C. CAVALLARO: Because it’s a substance that I like. And it’s sweet. And I felt that the body of Christ, the — the meaning of Christ, is about the sweetness.
COOPER: Were you trying to shock, I mean, to — to cause attention?
Often — usually, when Christ is shown, he’s wearing some form of clothing. This is a naked Christ, which has also caused some concern.
C. CAVALLARO: No more than the religion, the way they use it. I was just using it as an iconic figure.
I mean, that my intentions was to shock people, no. I was — my intention was to have them taste the — and feel what they’re looking at in their mouth.
COOPER: Bill, you call this exhibit hate speech. You said it’s — quote — “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever.”
What specifically offends you about it?
WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Well, of course, asking the public to come in and eat Jesus, with his genitals exposed, during Holy Week I think would be self-explanatory.
If we took an image of this artist’s mother, and made her out in chocolate, with her genitals exposed, of course, to be equal, and then asked the public to eat her on Mother’s Day, yes, he might have a problem. Maybe he wouldn’t.
But you know what bothers me? It’s not even the artist. I mean, we have a lot of these loser artists down in SoHo and around the country. What bothers me is that this guy Knowles, who is an artist in residence, the owner, the president and CEO of an establishmentarian site, the Roger Smith Hotel, 47th and Lexington, in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, that is what bothers me, because now we have the establishment kicking in.
And to put this out during Holy Week, on street level, when kids can walk in off the street, these people are morally bankrupt. And my goal is to make them financially bankrupt.
COOPER: Cosimo, do you understand the outrage this has caused? I mean, do you think it’s overreaction? Do you get it?
C. CAVALLARO: Yes, I get it. I think it’s an overreaction.
You just heard the gentleman calling artists losers, or me a loser. I think what he’s — his assault is on the public at large, artists, and freedom of speech, and every Catholic. I’m a Catholic, and I’m a Christian.
And I think this gentleman doesn’t even represent the people that are in his faith.
DONAHUE: That’s funny. You said I put out a fatwa, right? Or the — or the — that was the — the guy who ran the lab, says I put out a fatwa. I put out a news release.
So, you’re accusing me of being like the Taliban; is that right?
C. CAVALLARO: Who, me? You’re not that intelligent.
DONAHUE: Oh, no, let me tell you something. You’re — you’re lucky I’m not as mean, because you might lose more than your head.
COOPER: Cosimo, did you want people to eat this? Was that part of this?
C. CAVALLARO: No.
Did you hear what this gentleman is saying, that I would lose my head?
DONAHUE: No, I — you heard what I said. I said you’re — you’re lucky I’m not like the Taliban, because you would lose more than your head, which is why…
C. CAVALLARO: Right. So, therefore…
DONAHUE: … guys like you wouldn’t do this against Mohammed during Ramadan.
C. CAVALLARO: No, because I’m a Christian. And I’m not trying to…
DONAHUE: Oh, you’re a Christian. Please. Don’t lie about it, all right? Don’t lie about it.
C. CAVALLARO: I’m not lying. No, I’m not lying about it.
DONAHUE: Yes, you are.
C. CAVALLARO: I want to ask you a question, Mr. Donahue.
C. CAVALLARO: Where do you think I should exhibit this? Because you — you have bamboozled an art gallery.
C. CAVALLARO: And you have bamboozled an establishment. You have put fear in people to listen to your rhetoric and to believe — just because a man has got his arms extended and he’s made in chocolate — it’s your Christ — and it’s offensive.
DONAHUE: That’s right.
C. CAVALLARO: And, by the way — excuse me. I’m going to talk to you for a minute. You keep quiet.
DONAHUE: And you want the public to eat him.
C. CAVALLARO: Now, you go to the Catholic Church…
COOPER: Let Cosimo finish his point.
C. CAVALLARO: You go to the Catholic Church, and you’re going to see statues from Michelangelo that are nude. Are you going to clothe them for the Holy Week?
C. CAVALLARO: And are you telling me that, apart from the Holy Week, we could do anything we want to do with the genitalia? What are you talking about?
COOPER: OK. Let Bill answer.
DONAHUE: All right. All right, first of all, Leonardo, you’re not.
But, quite frankly, where should you have this displayed? In New Jersey is where New Yorkers put their garbage. There’s a big sanitation dump. That’s where you should put it.
COOPER: Bill, let me read you something that David Kuo, the former presidential assistant to President Bush, who worked in the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, said in reference to your protest.
He said — quote — “Instead of getting all amped up over this art, Christians should be spending time facing the real and very challenging Jesus found in the Gospels, and encouraging others to do the same.”
COOPER: Are you making a bigger deal out of this than it deserves?
DONAHUE: No, no, no, no.
COOPER: And doesn’t this, in fact, give this more attention than it ever would have received otherwise?
DONAHUE: If, in fact, it was at some dump in SoHo, I probably wouldn’t pay too much attention. But the fact that the Roger Smith Hotel…
C. CAVALLARO: … dump in SoHo.
DONAHUE: … right here in New York City is doing this thing, no. If I don’t pay attention to it, then I — my people should ask for me to be fired.
By the way, I am delighted with the response from Jews, Muslims, and others, not just Catholics and Protestants, with this. People are basically saying, enough is enough. This is absolutely revolting.
And what you’re saying, sir, is totally disingenuous. No one believes it. I don’t even think you believe it.
COOPER: But, Bill, doesn’t — doesn’t — I mean, don’t people have a right to express themselves? And isn’t that what art is about? Aren’t artists supposed to provoke thought?
DONAHUE: That’s right. And, if we — and if we put a swastika out on a stamp in the United States, we could call that art. It was an art exhibition. I don’t think Jews would go for that.
Just because art is art doesn’t mean that it is a right that is absolute. Art can be insulting and it can be offensive. And when these people are whining, claiming victim status, as this guy is doing, because of my exercise of my First Amendment right of freedom of speech — I didn’t call the cops to come in and censor this.
I’m simply saying I called up about 500 of my friends and — running different Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and non- sectarian organizations to boycott the Roger Smith Hotel. They’re morally bankrupt. I want to see them financially bankrupt.
COOPER: Cosimo, I want to give you the final thought. Do you plan to — to display this elsewhere?
C. CAVALLARO: Yes, I do, hopefully.
And I would like to add to the gentleman who referred to the swastika, he’s actually acting like a Nazi.
C. CAVALLARO: And I — I would like to ask one question.
Where do you suggest that I exhibit this? Because you basically pulled it out of a gallery for me. So, where do you think…
DONAHUE: No. I — I told you…
C. CAVALLARO: Where — no, excuse me.
Where do you suggest that an artist should exhibit his work that you don’t infringe on?
DONAHUE: Well, you know, go to some dump down in SoHo, where…
C. CAVALLARO: A dump?
DONAHUE: … nobody will pay attention.
C. CAVALLARO: Is there a church in SoHo that’s a dump, too, because…
DONAHUE: Oh, you would like to…
C. CAVALLARO: No, let me tell you something.
DONAHUE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
C. CAVALLARO: There’s two priests that have wanted to exhibit this in their church.
DONAHUE: Is that right?
C. CAVALLARO: Yes, absolutely.
DONAHUE: Give me their names.
C. CAVALLARO: I will not, because you’re a bully.
C. CAVALLARO: And you know what? I believe that there’s people in your organization that would like you to resign.
DONAHUE: Is that right?
C. CAVALLARO: Absolutely. And you’re…
DONAHUE: Well, how come — I haven’t heard from them.
C. CAVALLARO: I got to tell you something, there’s more filth that comes out of your mouth…
DONAHUE: Is that right?
C. CAVALLARO: Yes — than I have seen…
DONAHUE: Look, you lost. You know what? You put your middle finger at the Catholic Church, and we just broke it, didn’t we, pal?
C. CAVALLARO: No. You’re wrong. You’re wrong.
DONAHUE: Yes, we did. You lost.
C. CAVALLARO: I have a lot of believers.
DONAHUE: We — we won. You’re out of a job.
C. CAVALLARO: And I’m a Christian. And there’s a lot of people like me, who are opposed to what you’re doing, because you made a big…
DONAHUE: Yes? But I got a job, and you don’t.
C. CAVALLARO: You made a — “I got a job, and you don’t”?
C. CAVALLARO: You’re acting like a 5-year-old.
DONAHUE: I got a job, and you don’t.
C. CAVALLARO: You’re talking — you’re acting like a 5-year-old. And I feel sorry for you.
COOPER: All right. We’re going to — we’re…
DONAHUE: Well, I won on this, and you lost, didn’t you?
COOPER: Well, let’s — let’s leave it there.
You both expressed your opinions.
Bill Donahue, appreciate you being with — and, Cosimo Cavallaro, appreciate it as well. Thank you, sir.
C. CAVALLARO: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Thank you.