MADRID, Spain — Critics of a Spanish judge say he wrongly dismissed charges against an artist who stole consecrated hosts for an exhibit that challenged the Catholic faith.
The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers announced it would file an appeal and be prepared “to go to the highest court necessary in the face of what is becoming a campaign of serious offenses against the Christian faith and religious freedom.”
Abel Azcona stole more than 240 consecrated hosts from Masses celebrated in the cities of Madrid and Pamplona. He later took nude photos of himself arranging them on a floor to spell the word ‘pederasty.’
In November 2015, he displayed the photos as part of an art display in a city-owned exhibition hall available for public use.
When that exposition was over, the would-be artist sold the consecrated hosts for more than $268,000.
Azcona was charged for an alleged offense against laws respecting religious sentiments. However, Judge Fermín Otamendi of the Pamplona Second District Court of Discovery closed the case against Azcona.
In his ruling, the judge described the consecrated and stolen hosts as “small white round objects.” He claimed that there had been no desecration of the sacred hosts because according to the Spanish Royal Academy dictionary desecration is defined as “treating something sacred without due respect or using it for profane purposes.”
He rejected charges that the accused treated something sacred without due respect, claiming “lack of respect should not be confused with not doing what the Catholic Church requires its faithful to do with the consecrated hosts in the act of Communion.”
The judge claimed Azcona made use of the hosts “discreetly, without his conduct being able to be characterized as disrespectful, offensive or irreverent.” The exhibition of the artwork “does not constitute derision of the beliefs, rites or ceremonies of the Catholic Church nor is it an affront to those who profess or practice said beliefs,” according to the judge.
Polonia Castellanos, president of the Christian Lawyers Association, objected to the ruling. She considered the judge’s description of the consecrated hosts to be an effort to “rule out deliberate harmful intent.”
Even though the perpetrator stated on several occasions that he used consecrated hosts, the judge said in his ruling that “nowhere in the exhibit was it indicated that the hosts with which he had spelled out the word ‘pederasty’ were consecrated hosts.”
The Association of Christian Lawyers cited Article 525 of the Spanish Penal Code, which protects religious freedom against those who “in order to offend the religious sentiments of the members of a religious confession, publicly deride by word, in writing, or through any type document their dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies.”
The 110,000 petition signatures delivered to the Pamplona city council objecting to the exhibit also constitutes evidence of an offense against religious sentiments, the group said.
The petition asked the city’s mayor, Joseba Asirón, to pull the exhibit. There were also numerous public protests against the display. Archbishop Francisco Pérez of Pamplona offered a Mass of Reparation that more than 4,500 faithful attended.
The Association of Christian Lawyers said the facts were sufficiently serious that, at minimum, oral arguments should be held.
“Dismissing the case without even hearing from the parties in court is to have the least consideration for the fundamental right of religious freedom,” the group said.