Pope Benedict XVI's comments last month that using condoms
could be justified at times, such as by a male prostitute trying to prevent spreading AIDS, have continued to roil Catholics, especially after the Vatican clarified that the pontiff intended his remarks to apply beyond sex workers and include anyone facing such difficult choices.
Now PETA, the global animals-rights advocacy group, has found a clever -- some might say irreverent -- way to capitalize on Benedict's opening by extending his concern, albeit via some nifty photo editing, to the plight of cats and dogs who breed like rabbits and produce offspring who are then killed in shelters and pounds.
"Dogs & Cats Can't Use Condoms," read leaflets that PETA
began distributing outside the Vatican over the weekend, a prelude to a European-wide campaign in cathedrals and churches that will then hit the United States. "We Are in the Midst of an Unholy Animal Overpopulation Crisis. Spay or Neuter Today."
The leaflet features a picture of the pontiff appearing to hand out a condom to an adoring crowd -- in a white wrapper, naturally.
"If animals could wear condoms, a tremendous amount of suffering would be prevented," said PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich, who identifies as a Roman Catholic. "But they can't -- so it's up to their guardians to take responsibility for spaying and neutering."
"Please help us bring salvation to dogs and cats by singing the praises of spaying and neutering to everyone you know," added PETA blogger
As USA Today's Cathy Grossman noted
, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) never misses a chance to exploit a headline, or a religious image.
For example, PETA has often deployed ad campaigns (like a re-imagining
of the Last Supper) to argue that Jesus was a vegetarian and therefore today's Christians should be, too. The group's (understandably) popular ads against fur that feature naked celebs have also used religious imagery, like a strategically placed crucifix
in a photo of Playboy cover model Joanna Krupa.
And last summer PETA even offered to rebuild the 62-foot statue of Jesus that was felled by lightning last summer at an Ohio church as long as the church agreed that the new Jesus would be built with a lamb in his arms and a message inscribed on the statue: "Blessed Are the Merciful. Go Vegan." Officials at Solid Rock Church declined
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005, PETA officials were thrilled
, because the new pope was known as a cat lover who liked to feed the strays in the Vatican Gardens and wrote against the inhumane treatment of animals. The new pope even inspired a children's book
, "Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told By a Cat."
The pontiff's popularity with animal advocates suffered somewhat when he began wearing capes trimmed with ermine
, white fur from a weasel-like creature once prized by the nobility.
But it's likely the Vatican will not so easily dismiss PETA's new campaign and the implication that Benedict approves condoms so much that he is dispensing them to the crowd in St. Peter's Square.
Already the pope's champions have begun to take up the cause, with William Donohue of the Catholic League denouncing PETA for Photo-shopping an image of the pope and also raising the hypocrisy charge by recalling reports from last year
that PETA euthanizes some 90 percent of the cats and dogs sent to the shelter at its Norfolk, Va., headquarters -- a very high rate.
"There is something perverse about an organization that has to rip off the pope while violating its own mission on a daily basis, just to stay in business," Donohue fumed
As for the Vatican, nothing yet. There is no apparent Catholic teaching on spaying and neutering animals, though it's still a serious sin for human beings to do it.