Catholic University Celebrates Painting of George Floyd as Jesus Christ, Releases Report on Racism

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  • A painting depicting George Floyd as Jesus Christ hangs in two locations at The Catholic University of America, The Daily Signal has learned.
  • The artist repeatedly has indicated that his painting depicts both Floyd and Jesus. 
  • “It is just another symptom of the liberalization and secularization of our campus,” a junior at Catholic University tells The Daily Signal. 

Paintings depicting George Floyd as Jesus Christ hang in both The Catholic University of America’s campus ministry office and its law school, The Daily Signal has learned. 

Catholic University appeared to shrug off responsibility for the painting Monday, telling The Daily Signal that artist Kelly Latimore’s painting “Mama” depicts “the Virgin Mary supporting the body of the dead Christ”—although the artist has indicated repeatedly that his painting depicts both Floyd and Jesus. 

“You can identify Jesus by the marks in the halo,” said Karna Lozoya, vice president for university communications. Lozoya would not further address the matter with The Daily Signal. 

“The icon has no place at The Catholic University of America; it is blasphemous and an offense to the Catholic faith, but it is not surprising at all that it was put there,” a junior at Catholic University told The Daily Signal in an email. “It is just another symptom of the liberalization and secularization of our campus.” 

“There are many students, faculty, and staff who are concerned about this, but there is nothing we can do,” added the student, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal from the university administration. “And if we sound the alarm, we will be labeled racists.”

Kelly Latimore's painting “Mama” on display outside the chapel at The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law.
This plaque explains Latimore's “Mama,” exhibited at the Columbus School of Law.

The Catholic University of America also released a report Friday examining the university’s culture and practices “on matters of diversity and inclusion.” 

The university, which prides itself on its status as the pontifical university of the Catholic Church in the United States and the only institution of higher education founded by Catholic bishops in the U.S., held a ceremony in March celebrating the unveiling of Latimore’s “Mama.”

“Following the violent death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Latimore created this icon in June of that year,” says a description posted with the painting, according to photographs obtained by The Daily Signal. 

“The image is evocative of the Pietà—the Mother of Sorrows,” the description continues. “May Mary, the Mirror of Justice hear the cry of all who have known the sorrow of losing a loved one to violence and injustice. Amen.” 

‘A Mother With Her Son of Color'

“Mama” hangs right outside the Mary, Mirror of Justice Chapel in Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law and emulates the renowned “Pieta,” a statue carved by Italian sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1499 depicting Jesus Christ’s mother, Mary, holding him in her arms after his crucifixion. 

Latimore, who lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri, said in an April interview that his painting was commissioned by his partner “as a way to mourn George Floyd.” 

A spokesperson for Latimore told The Daily Signal on Monday that the artist was in his studio and unavailable for comment. 

“‘Mama’ is done as a pieta,” said the spokesperson, who refrained from specifically stating that the painting depicts Floyd. “A mother with her son of color who was unjustly murdered by the state.” 

Floyd, a black man arrested for attempting to use a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes, died on May 25, 2020, after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. A viral video of Floyd's death, in which Floyd lay handcuffed and pinned to the pavement on his stomach, sparked protests and riots that summer across the nation.

“In my first sketch, Mary was looking at the savior, but we ended up shifting her gaze to the viewer,” Latimore said in the interview, adding that the shift in focus “wasn’t focusing on the death, which was horrible, but the viewer, and guiding us to communal thought and prayer and action.” 

In the interview with Robert Lowes for The Christian Century, Latimore went on to say:

There were so many voices that went into that icon. In the black community, there’s dialogue about whether continuously showing dead black bodies is healthy. I worried about that. But several black friends of mine told me this was needed—God being present in the dead black body—as a way to respond so this doesn’t keep happening.

I think ‘Mama’ encapsulates my favorite part of iconography, the communal as­pect. It makes the artist part of the community, part of the whole.

‘My Answer Was Yes'

Latimore said he has received death threats and “spiritual denunciations” over the painting about once or twice a week. Many of these threats come from Eastern Orthodox individuals in Russia or Ukraine, the artist said. 

“The common question that people asked was, ‘Is it George Floyd or Jesus?’ The fact they’re asking that question is part of the problem,” he told the publication. “My answer was yes.”

Latimore called this a “nonanswer” and said it “frustrated the hell out of a lot of people.” 

“Again, it’s them trying to protect God, and we can be pretty sure that when we try to protect God, we’re creating an idol,” he said. 

Another view of Kelly Latimore's “Mama,” as displayed in The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law.

The viral video of Floyd’s death, in which Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe, sparked massive nationwide protests against police brutality that escalated into riots with looting, arson, and other property destruction. Many of the protests were planned by the organization Black Lives Matter, among other groups.

A jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in April 2021 of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison; he and the other three officers present were fired

“I think it goes without saying that George Floyd didn’t deserve to die, and I sincerely appreciate the efforts of millions of Catholic Americans, who engaged in good-faith advocacy to advance policies that will prevent the use of excessive force by law enforcement,” junior politics major and former Catholic University College Republicans President Blayne Clegg told The Daily Signal. 

But, Clegg emphasized, “George Floyd is not Jesus Christ.” 

“He is not a saint, nor a martyr, and to, in any way, compare him to the sinless son of Almighty God is to do a damning disservice to the vast majority of Catholics and Catholic theology,” Clegg said in a direct message to The Daily Signal on Twitter. “It is damning anywhere, but especially at *THE* Catholic University of America, where this painting was purchased, unveiled, and hung up without input from student leaders.” 

Jared Jagiello, a student senator representing the university’s School of Architecture and Planning, told The Daily Signal that “nobody should be portrayed as Jesus except” Jesus himself. 

“It highly disappoints me that someone else is being depicted as Jesus Christ in the Pietà to begin with, [and] being right at the doors of a chapel makes matters worse,” Jagiello said in an email. 

Jagiello, who called for the immediate removal of “Mama,” said the university’s decision to include the “blasphemous” portrayal of Jesus Christ is “irresponsible.” 

“Replace it with a photo of Floyd, I can care less, but to put up something clearly blasphemous defeats the mission of the university,” he said in the email. 

Unveiling of ‘Mama’

Catholic University unveiled the painting at the conclusion of Columbus Law School’s Black History Month program, according to a university website post. 

A video of the ceremony, once posted on the university's website, became private after The Daily Signal sought comment from the university. Catholic University did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this point. 

During the ceremony, the post said, Law School Dean Stephen Payne recited the poem “Solidarity” by Maya Angelou and reminded those gathered that “diversity is a divine gift we should cherish.” Assistant Dean Shani Butts read “I Dream a World” by poet Langston Hughes.

“Almighty Father, we now ask you to sanctify and bless this icon which we will use in the adoration of the Blessed Mother,” prayed Father Jude DeAngelo, university chaplain and director of Campus Ministry, as he blessed Latimore’s painting with holy water. “May all who look upon this sacred image come to know her protection and maternal care, tracing in their hearts the pattern of holiness.”

The university junior who asked not to be identified told The Daily Signal that two prints of Latimore’s painting are on display at the university. The other print is displayed in the offices of Campus Ministry in Caldwell Hall, he said in an email. 

The student called the painting “blasphemy against Mary for portraying her holding a sacrilegious depiction of George Floyd.” 

“Why is this there?” the student asked. “Well, simply, those in the school’s administration are woke liberals.”

The student added in the email:

The chaplain and the rest of Campus Ministry seem to think that their liberal version of social justice is the highest virtue, even more important than authentic expressions of the Catholic faith.

This is the same Campus Ministry who has a pride flag in their offices and allies themselves with every liberal cause that comes along, while bullying conservative Catholic students. This is the same chaplain who marched with BLM [Black Lives Matter] and barred Abby Johnson from speaking for Cardinals for Life (the pro-life club on campus).

DeAngelo, the chaplain, did not respond immediately to requests for comment from The Daily Signal. 

A former president of Cardinals for Life accused DeAngelo of pressuring her against her “conscience” to cancel a speech earlier this year by Johnson, a pro-life activist who used to manage a Planned Parenthood clinic. 

The student resigned after the pro-life group canceled Johnson’s February speech over comments Johnson made about police profiling and her adopted son, who is biracial.

“I am writing today to inform you that I am resigning from my position as president of Cardinals for Life at The Catholic University of America, effective immediately, because of how I was pressured, against my conscience, by the university chaplain in his capacity as adviser to Cardinals for Life, into making a decision to postpone indefinitely an event with Abby Johnson,” Anna Stephens, a Catholic University senior, wrote in a February letter to Catholic University President John Garvey. 

Johnson would go on to speak at Catholic University at the invitation of the school’s College Republicans chapter. 

University Report on Racism, Diversity, Inclusion 

On Friday, Catholic University published its Sister Thea Bowman Committee Report, a yearlong examination of the university’s culture and practices “on matters of diversity and inclusion.” 

The report compiles recommendations to “address structural issues that may limit or create barriers to inclusion and equality” and includes at least six specific mentions of “equity,” a word increasingly found instead of the word equality in critical race theory concepts or materials. 

The report’s recommendations include hiring a chief diversity officer; hiring more diverse leadership for the Administrative Council and University Board of Trustees; creating a Center for Racial Justice and Human Dignity; and focusing on recruiting and retaining “diverse students, faculty, and staff.” 

Recommendations in the report also include diversifying the ethnic/racial composition of the board of trustees and student body; advancing “recruitment of faculty from underrepresented communities including position(s) focused on ethnic and multicultural studies and positions that build upon intellectual leadership on topics of race,” and to “establish a university statement that covers diversity, equity, and inclusion, and includes definitions and why this is important to mission performance.”

Clegg, the former College Republicans president, told The Daily Signal that the report represents the “formal injection of critical race theory” into Catholic University’s staff, faculty, and administration. 

“Its embrace of the dangerous doctrine of equity and equality of outcome ought to be of concern to all Catholics, but especially those who share Pope John Paul II’s concerns about Marxism and its incompatibility with the Catholic faith,” Clegg said. 

“If the university was seriously concerned about accessibility,” he added, “it would use some of its nearly $300 million endowment fund to slash tuition across the board for all students.”

Lozoya, Catholic University’s vice president of communications, told The Daily Signal that the university’s statement on race—rather than the report—is the university position on “how to address the sin of racism on our campus and in our culture.” 

“Catholic University’s commitment to addressing the sin of racism, which is at once personal and social, is rooted in the Catholic faith, the faith on which Sister Thea staked her life,” the statement begins. “It is through thoughtful engagement with that faith that the university aspires to build up a Christian culture on campus and in the wider world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the framework for the work of the committee.”

The rest of Catholic University’s statement on race may be found here.

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