Christian groups have condemned a provocative Spanish play about Jesus called Golgota Picnic , due to premiere in France.
Christian fundamentalists are expected to protest publicly outside the Garonne Theatre in Toulouse on Wednesday, while a counter-demonstration in support of freedom of speech is being organised by leftist groups.
In a message carried by the Toulouse diocesan website, Archbishop Monsignor Robert Le Gall said:
Mr Rodrigo Garcia wants to denounce forcefully all forms of fundamentalism and rebel against an all-powerful God he has feared since childhood - that is not the God Christians proclaim... Is it right to foul the faith of many believers, to
attack them in their devotion to Christ? I do not think so.
Another senior Catholic cleric, Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, condemned what he said was Garcia's depiction of Christ as madman, dog, pyromaniac, messiah of Aids, devil-whore, no better than a terrorist .
The theatre's manager, Jacky Ohayon, insisted Rodrigo Garcia's play was not blasphemous and pointed out it had run for six months in the Spanish capital Madrid with no trouble .
A bid by Catholic groups to have the play banned was rejected by the regional authorities in Toulouse.
The Theatre du Rond-Point's staging of Golgota Picnic is the latest target in a wave of demonstrations across France One of Paris's most prestigious theatres was being protected by riot police and guard-dog patrols after it became the
latest target in a wave of Catholic protests across France against so-called blasphemous plays.
The head of the the Champs-Elysees theatre complained of death threats in the run up to the premiere of the play by Rodrigo Garcia. Two men reported to have links to fundamentalist Catholic groups were arrested at the weekend while attempting to
disable the theatre's security system. Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianise France, has called for a large, peaceful street demonstration against Christianophobia this weekend. The archbishop of Paris will lead
protest prayers against the play at Notre Dame Cathedral.
Golgota Picnic, which takes place on a stage strewn with burger buns, has several religious references including readings and a crucifixion scene. But Paris theatre critics said it was absurd to call it anti-Catholic or blasphemous and questioned
whether its religious critics had actually seen it.
Paris city hall's art supremos defended the theatre community against what it said was fundamentalists holding art to ransom, saying a silent minority of Catholics did not share the notion of making threats or stifling freedom of
Update: Judge refuses to censor theatre performance of Golgota Picnic
One day before the opening night Golgota Picnic , a Paris judge has refused to sign an interim ruling prohibiting the opening of the show. Judge Magali Bouvier decided not to destroy a work of art which, she writes, will only be
seen by a few hundred spectators, regardless of its offensive content and messages of hate against all Christians.
An emergency proceeding was introduced on these grounds a few weeks ago by the French and Christian rights defense group, AGRIF (Alliance generale contre le racisme et pour le respect de l'identite francaise et chretienne).
In French law, emergency proceedings are intended to put a stop to situations which disrupt the public order . AGRIF's counsel argued that the showing of Golgota Picnic would do that on several counts.
The play's Hispano-Argentian author, Rodrigo Garcia, expresses hatred towards Christ throughout the play, accusing centuries of Christian art of being directly responsible for sex abuse of minors by priests and religious, violence, and more
generally all that is wrong with the world. Christ Himself is portrayed as a selfish, antisocial fraud and covered with verbal abuse calling him a devil whore or the messiah of AIDS .
The play visually attacks Christians' central, treasured beliefs about all things related to the Crucifixion. Hundreds of bread burgers cover the scene in a parody of the Multiplication of the Loaves; the actors, five male, one female, repeatedly
mock the Crucifixion while endlessly reciting rambling prose, then sing and dance the last words of Christ to strident guitar music.
Another scene showed three actors, two male and one female, scantily covered and soaked with blue and red paint to evoke classical paintings of Golgotha, entwining in sexual positions. After this they all undressed completely, facing the public
or moving about the stage for at least five minutes. AGRIF argued that this scene, among several others, constitutes sexual exhibition which is prohibited by law, and should at the very least justify banning Golgota Picnic from
being shown to minors under eighteen.
All the demands of the AGRIF were rejected by judge Magali Bouvier. The judge went on to charge AGRIF for court costs of 3,500 euro (over 4,600 USD) legal expenses incurred by the Theatre du Rond-Point for its defense.
French law does not prohibit blasphemy, but it does affirm all believers' right to freedom of religion and to the respect of their beliefs.
Around 2,000 Roman Catholic traditionalists demonstrated Sunday in Paris over the staging of what they consider a blasphemous play depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Holding banners with slogans such as France is Christian and must remain so, and That's enough Christianophobia, the demonstrators marched on the Theatre du Rond-Point to denounce Golgota Picnic , a play by Argentinian
playwright Rodrigo Garcia that premiered last week.
Police estimated around 2,000 people took part in the demonstration. The organizers estimated there were double that number.
As they marched, a few hundred people on the other side of the Seine River held a counterdemonstration against what they called an attempt by Christian traditionalists to impose a moral order. No to censorship, all for culture, and Our
freedom against their moral order, they chanted.
Reacting to Sunday's protests, French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand said that while he was very attached to the Christian tradition in France, the right to freedom of thought and the separation of church and state needed to be
protected at all costs.