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Rosary and virginity adverts draw flak from Polish Catholics


Roman Catholic groups in Poland have demanded the withdrawal of billboard posters by a local clothes firm, depicting teenagers in erotic poses with rosaries.

"These peculiar adverts offend against good taste – hence the protests," said Jakub Mlost, chairperson of the Catholic Youth Association in Poland’s Krakow archdiocese.

"We know there’s been liberalisation in certain areas of life, but these adverts violate our values. Some young people can look at the posters and just laugh. But they degrade the advertising market, where everything has been allowed anyway and the borders are still being constantly pushed back," Mlost said.

The youth leader was reacting to a nationwide campaign by the House clothing company, juxtaposing images of male and female teenagers praying with beads depicting rosaries, used for praying some Christians, and with them sucking their fingers in erotic poses.

However, the adverts were defended by the designer, Rafal Betlejewsk, who said they were intended to show that "virtue is sexy and awakens creativity".

"Our task was to choose a current topic for House’s target group, which means people aged 19 to 25. Virginity and its loss is such a topic," Betlejewsk told the Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper on 14 March. "So many things are controversial in Poland … But I don’t think there’d be any justification for banning these adverts."

The adverts, many displayed alongside churches, show a young man and young woman gazing earnestly at their rosaries with the caption, "Protect me, father." In another frame, however, the same teenagers adopt erotic poses above the slogan, "I know 69 ways to keep my virginity – do you?" A third poster, placed on buses and trams, declares "Virgins, hands up!"

A House director, Rafal Sajewicz, insisted the number 69 was purely coincidental and dismissed the adverts’ erotic associations as an "unauthorised simplification". He said the objects in the images had too few beads to qualify as Catholic rosaries. "Our campaign isn’t aimed at offending anyone’s feelings, least of all religious ones," Sajewicz told Rzeczpospolita. "We’re promoting creative sexuality in the context of virtue and virginity as an important aspect of the life of the young generation, who make up most of our clients."

However, the adverts were deplored by Agnieszka Wos, a staff writer at the Catholic monthly publication, Fronde. She said they "ridiculed Catholic attitudes to pre-marital chastity".

The Catholic Church’s chief cleric for journalism, Andrzej Luter, told the Gazeta Krakowska daily newspaper on 13 March the advertisements showed "a lack of elementary sensitivity and culture".

Ecumenical News International