The cartoon, created by Kjell Nilsson-Mäki and published in SSU’s bimonthly in-house organ Tvärdrag (Crosswind), shows a seated pope entreating a mother to hand over her young child while quoting from the Bible: “Let the children come to me.” A horrified mother and terrified child are clearly distressed by the large bulge beneath the papal robes.
“It’s a sharply acidic satirical image that reflects the systematic abuse of children at the hands of representatives of the Catholic Church. It’s not an attack on the pope and it’s not an attack on the Catholic faith,” Daniel Suhonen, editor of Tvärdrag, told The Local.
“In the cartoon the pope serves as a symbol for the Catholic Church in the same way that a caricaturist might use Mona Sahlin as a symbol for the Social Democrats or Barack Obama as a symbol for the United States,” he added.
But Catholic Church spokeswoman Maria Hasselgren was left unimpressed by the editor’s justifications.
“Unfortunately we’re accustomed to this kind of attack,” she told The Local.
“The editor of the magazine has spoken previously about how he wouldn’t have done the same thing in a Muslim context because Muslims are a vulnerable group in Swedish society. But I think this just displays how skewed his view is of the make-up of the Catholic Church in Sweden. Many Catholics here are immigrants, a lot are unemployed, and quite a few come from war zones such as Iraq. They’re certainly not the sort of powerful elite he implies.”
Suhonen conceded that the vulnerable position of Muslims in society meant he would think twice about publishing a caricature in a similar vein, though he insisted he would not reject the possibility out of hand.
“Muslims are victims of oppression in Sweden to a much greater extent than Catholics, which makes this caricature less sensitive. But that’s not to say that I wouldn’t have published somebody like Lars Vilks, for example. I don’t know if I would or wouldn’t have published because I haven’t been in that situation,” he said.
Hasselgren however said the cartoon was indicative of a level of disdain for the feelings of Catholics that was deep-rooted in Swedish society.
“It goes back to the sort of anti-Catholic sentiment that has existed here since the 16th century. There’s a very commonplace belief among Swedes that Catholicism is all about power and oppression and it’s a belief that remains very close to the surface.”
“But regardless of how insulting this caricature might be we’re not going to take any action. It wouldn’t get us anywhere.”