Sunday, December 21, 2003

Vatican art: Putting church in perspective

Exhibit caps difficult year

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

One of the most difficult years in the Cincinnati Archdiocese's history will end on a shimmering note, as a display of master works of art, architecture, sculpture, mosaics and artifacts from the Vatican, reflecting 2,000 years of faith in the Catholic Church, was unveiled Saturday at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

John Reynolds of Anderson checks out the Processional Cross of Pope Pius IX, 1863.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
The art display, Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes, is the largest of its kind ever to leave Rome and tour the United States. Cincinnati is the third stop on a four-city tour. The exhibition will be on display here until April 18.

It couldn't come at a better time for the faithful in Greater Cincinnati.

The Archdiocese has been bombarded with a series of scandals this year, nearly all relating to accusations of priests sexually abusing children - and the church's failure to report those incidents - decades ago.

Those scandals culminated Nov. 20 when the archdiocese became the first Catholic institution in the nation to be found guilty of criminal charges for failing to report sexual abuse of children by priests. On that day, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk stood in a Hamilton County courtroom and entered a no contest plea to five misdemeanor charges.

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said he expects the display to have an impact on Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

"All of these items (in the exhibit) are of great historical value and great artistic value," he said. "But really, they are a demonstration of the faith of a people. Anyone who views the display will very strongly feel the faith of the church, as exhibited for 2,000 years. So we believe it will be a faith-enriching moment."

One strength of the display, said 52-year-old Paducah, Ky., resident Virginia Vessels, is that it acknowledges the good and the bad history of the church. There are artifacts from the time of the Crusades, and Renaissance-era popes who fathered illegitimate children. The fact that the faithful have endured, and overcome, so much during 2,000 years gives Vessels great hope for the future of the church. "We'll always have problems, but we're stronger for recognizing our problems and dealing with them," Vessels said. "People aren't perfect, and neither are institutions."

Father Ed Smith, who is on the faculty of American Seminary in Rome and lived in Vatican City for 10 years, said he thinks that's exactly the point of the display.

"It's a long history of a church that has weathered a lot of problems, but has grown in understanding of itself," Smith said. "Yet, there is still a sense of nobility of what was attempted: to touch the transcendent and to inspire others to reach farther than they normally would."

Smith said the church has always had problems, and has always survived those problems.

"It's not a new thing for people to hurt each other," Smith said. "But the church accepts sinners."

No attendance estimates were available Saturday. But Roger Pille, a museum spokesman, said the crowds were "light, but good." He said many of the people stayed longer than the 90 minutes estimated to complete the tour.

Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes

When: Runs through April 18. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, 1301 Western Ave.

Tickets: $18.50; $9.50 ages 3-12, $13.50 seniors. Museum member tickets: $12.50; $6.50 ages 3-12. Groups: (15+ purchased in advance) $13.50; $6.50 ages 3-12.

Information: 287-7001 or toll-free (800) 733-2077; online at or at the box office.There's more: Tickets are timed at 15-minute intervals. Allow 11/2 hours to view the exhibition. An audio tour is included in the admission.



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Kenneth E. Clarke, priest