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Church told to remove controversial display

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A display in front of St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church depicts a child being held in a cage. The display was removed Tuesday. (Courtesy of Vincent Chavez)

A Catholic priest known for pushing the envelope recently got a rebuke from the archbishop of Santa Fe after he erected a controversial display in front of his Albuquerque church.

The display at St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church on Fourth Street depicted a child held in a cage, covered with a foil blanket and included a sign that read, “Remember the children taken from their parents at the border. Work and pray for their re-unification.”

The Rev. Vincent Paul Chávez told the Journal he erected the display last Thursday in response to 2018 comments by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that recently came to light in which Sessions said immigrants who are illegally crossing the border should be separated from their children.

Chávez said the display was removed Tuesday at the request of Archbishop John C. Wester.

Parents at the nearby St. Therese Catholic School were upset about the display and had threatened to disenroll their children, Chávez said.

“I ask that you kindly remove the cage with a child in it and please refrain from any contentious, controversial and provocative signs in front of the church,” Wester wrote to Chávez in an email obtained by the Journal.

The same day that the display was removed, lawyers appointed by a federal judge to locate families who were separated at the border revealed in a court filing that they have not been able to find the parents of 545 children. About two-thirds of those parents may be in their countries of origin, according to court documents.

Chávez said he’s “dumbfounded” at the request to remove the display.

“Every Catholic Church in the world has a crucifix in it that’s a symbol of a man being tortured to death,” he said. “Why is there such difficulty with symbolic art that’s meant to start a conversation?”

Chávez said the country’s policy on separating children is a “grave collective social sin for every American.”

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe did not respond to requests for comment.

Chávez is prone to controversial displays in front of the church.

In a letter to parishioners published on the church’s website, Chávez said people have been coming to the church over the summer to protest messages on the church’s marquee. Some of the messages said “Black Lives Matter,” “Thank you, Governor, Dr. Fauci and CDC for keeping us safe” and “No human is illegal in God’s realm,” according to the letter. Chávez in his letter noted that his church was taking a moral stand to advocate for what’s right.

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