- Associated Press - Friday, January 7, 2011

SANT JOAN, Mallorca (AP) — Seeking to raise money for their Roman Catholic youth group on the Spanish tourist destination island of Mallorca, members came up with a risque idea: Pose nearly nude for a calendar recreating scenes from the Passion of Christ.

The group has almost sold out of the 10-euro ($13) calendars for 2011 and is considering another print run because of high demand. But Mallorca’s Bishop Jesus Murgui is blasting the effort as showing disrespect for the most important Catholic holiday.

“The calendar trivializes Easter,” the Bishop’s office said in a statement e-mailed to the Associated Press on Friday.

It added: “We regret that the religious feelings of Catholics on this island have not been taken into account and that Christian symbols should not have been shown due respect.”

Members of the Davallament Catholic group of young adults that gives Sunday school classes say the sheer popularity of the calendar shows they have the public’s support. They paid 1,500 euros ($1,945) to have 300 calendars printed, and have almost sold out for a profit of 1,500 euros that will be used to buy material for their work aimed at educating young Catholics and keeping them in the fold.

The calendar features black and white shots of young men and women of Sant Joan, population 2,000, recreating images of the Roman era when Christianity was born.

Images taken in rustic settings include nearly naked gladiators fighting with spears, and Roman centurions with their buttocks visible escorting three imprisoned Christians wearing skimpy loin cloths while carrying a rustic wooden cross.

Another scene shot for the calendar shows 12 naked male models from the town lined up in a row, smiling and holding classic Roman plumed helmets in front of their private parts.

Pere Mestre, a 19-year-old shoe repairman and member of the youth group, said all of the models were between 18 and 28 years old. They included a carpenter, farm workers and a pilot.

He was somewhat dumbfounded by the negative reaction from Mallorca’s top Catholic, but said he and other members “are happy that our calendar is raising money for our association, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.”

The youth group’s leader, Pep Mas, said he understood the criticism of the calendar but said it fulfilled a need by raising funds and that the photographs were artistic.

“We accept criticism and opinions, but all of the shots are respectable,” Mr. Mas told the Ultima Hora newspaper.

Sant Joan Mayor Joan Magro also defended the calendar, telling Antena3 television channel that the photographer and the models did a good job.

“There are some good photographs, they are artistic and very well done,” he was quoted as saying. A woman who answered the phone at Mr. Magro’s office on Friday said he would not be available for further comment.

The controversy over the calendar came just a week after female police officers in Spain’s coastal mainland area of Lleida near Mallorca released a calendar of themselves scantily dressed in cat burglar outfits.

It was a Christmas gift to their male colleagues. None of the women posed in uniform, which is illegal in Spain. But the success of their calendar prompted the female officers to think about selling copies to raise money for charity, Spain’s El Periodico newspaper said.

Harold Heckle and Alan Clendenning contributed from Madrid.

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