Anti-Catholicism & Surrealism

He who sleeps with the pope requires long feet.

If you see a priest being beaten, make a wish.

For good luck, nail up consecrated hosts in the bathroom.

– Benjamin Péret

Surrealist’s anti-Catholicism needs to be re-examined in the light of the increasing evidence of the extent of paedophile Catholic priests. In the past the anti-Catholic aspects of Surrealism were regarded simply as a provocations designed to annoy the establishment but what if they were expressions of serious revenge fantasies?

The Surrealist most noted for expressing his dislike for Catholics is Benjamin Péret (4 July 1899 – 18 September 1959). There is the famous photograph of Péret insulting a priest in the street. Although most of the Surrealists were raised as Catholics this left them with a low opinion of it. Benjamin Péret received little education due to his dislike of school. Did he dislike school because he was he abused in school?

Marquis da Sade was a favourite of the Surrealists and De Sade’s stories are full of Catholic clergy engaged in sexual abuse. He was educated by his uncle, Abbé de Sade and later at a Jesuit lycee. Was the Marquis de Sade sexually abused as a boy?

There are so many examples of anti-Catholicism amongst the Surrealists that this can only be a small sample. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali were anti-Catholicism and both were raised as Catholic in Spain. As a youth, Buñuel was deeply religious, serving at as an altar boy, but at age 16 he grew disgusted with the Church. There are many reasons why a 16 year old would become disgusted with illogical religious dogma but the prevalence of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy can no longer be ignored as a reason for anti-Catholicism amongst the Surrealists.

The denial and cover up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church makes it is difficult to properly assess the significance of the Surrealists. It is further complicated by the religious and political judgements interfering (subverting and misleading) with the aesthetic and historic assessments of Surrealism.

Take a very small example of the Viennese Fantastic Realists distancing themselves from Surrealism. Two of the Viennese Fantastic Realists Rudolf Hausner and Ernst Fuchs both moved to Paris in the late 1940s and had contacts with the French Surrealists. Michael Messner writes about Hausner’s “problems subjugating himself to the strict dogma of the unreflected, sub-conscious act of painting as espoused and propagated in the form of manifestos by Breton.” (Michael Messner, Visionary Art, v3 p.28) However, by the late 1940s the dominance of automatist Surrealism was long over. Breton had only just returned from America in 1946 and by 1951 the ‘Carrouges Affair’ had further isolates Breton. Blaming Andre Breton, the Pope of Surrealism is a popular excuse but his influence at the time was limited to Paris and there are likely to have been other reasons. The obvious but un-stated reason is that Ernst Fuchs, a Catholic convert, must have had problems with the Surrealist’s anti-Catholicism.

Earlier this year I attended a free mini-conference at Melbourne University: “Dispersed Identities – sexuality, surreal and the global avant-gardes.” Juan Davila’s gave the opening address of the conference with a talk and slideshow. David Lomas looked at the Linaean botonical introduction of the word “sexuality” and how this related to Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even” and Max Ernst’s floral paintings. Michael Richardson carefully dissected Breton’s attitude to homosexuality and his alleged homophobia. Janine Burke looked at the influence of Surrealism on two female artists and Natalya Lusty spoke about Surrealist masculinity. Sexual abuse and Surrealist anti-Catholicism were not mentioned in any of the papers given at the conference – there is room for much more research than I can do in this post on the subject.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

6 responses to “Anti-Catholicism & Surrealism

  • Zachary Couch

    Interesting post. Certainly a point of view I’ve often pondered and expect much research in the future.

  • ersatz

    I’m sorry, what?!

    You keep saying things like, “They went to a school run by Catholic priests and became anti-Catholic, so perhaps this is an indication they were sexually abused” without giving a single shred of evidence that they were. It’d be the equivalent of saying, “They worked alongside Jews and became anti-Semitic, so perhaps this is an indication they were exploited and cheated by them.” Or “They had many Muslim neighbours and became anti-Islamic, so perhaps this is an indication that some Muslims they knew were terrorists.”

    You have no evidence to back up your claims! You’re just saying “Catholic priest, therefore probably guilty of sexual abuse”. That’s blatantly anti-Catholic.

    You do realise that statistically, Catholic priests are no more likely to be sexual abusers than any other type of religious leader? And than when compared to other professions, like school teachers, the rate of sexual abuse is several times lower?

    I went to a Catholic school, and several of my classmates are now anti-Catholics. By your logic, that means that, well, they were probably sexually abused.

    I suffer anti-Catholicism on a day-to-day basis at my university, from the media and from society in general. Most of it is from people like you who assume that stereotypes like “Priests are paedophiles” are reality, regardless of facts.

    Please take a serious look at the way you treat Catholics like me. It’s really not nice to have negative stereotypes perpetrated about you every single day of your life. Even if you’re not Catholic yourself, perhaps you can understand the way it must feel.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Ersatz, you have miss characterized my argument. I am calling for further research in the light of resent evidence of not only sexual abuse by religious leaders (predominately Catholic in the Catholic countries where most of the Surrealists were raised) and the cover-ups. Perhaps none of the Surrealists were sexually abused but were aware of the cover up of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Benjamin Péret suggested that if you are on public transport and next to a Catholic priest that you should say “get your hands off me you filthy beast” and move quickly away and that everyone around you would know what you were referring to.
      I have yet to see this statistical evidence that you are referring to that proves that Catholic priests are no more likely to be abusers or to assist in the covering up of sexual abuse than other religious leaders.

    • ersatz

      “I have yet to see this statistical evidence that you are referring to that proves that Catholic priests are no more likely to be abusers or to assist in the covering up of sexual abuse than other religious leaders.”

      Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: “We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else.”

      Sarah Buckley, Guide One Center for Risk Management: “We don’t see vast difference in the incidence rate between one denomination and another…It’s pretty even across the denominations.”

      Dr. Philip Jenkins, Pennsylvania State University: “If anyone believes that priests offend at a higher rate than teachers or non-celibate clergy, then they should produce the evidence on which they are basing that conclusion. I know of none. Saying ‘everybody knows’ does not constitute scientific methodology.”

      (Hopefully, the links work okay)

  • Mark Holsworth

    Francis Sullivan, the Catholic spokesman in Australia on sexual abuse (head of the Truth Justice and Healing Council) estimates that 4% of the Catholic clergy in Australia are child abusers, the Pope estimates that 2% are child abusers. If Sullivan is correct then statistically you would only have to meet about 21 clergy before you had encountered a child abuser. I don’t think that the Sullivan or the Pope is suggesting that a similar percentage of non-clergy are abusing children.

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