Social media giant Facebook has banned a photo of this year's Vatican nativity scene, citing its policy that prohibits "sexually suggestive or provocative" images.
The Nativity scene, which was donated by the ancient Abbey of Montevergine in the Campania region of southern Italy, features figures of people illustrating the need for the corporal works of mercy, such as visiting the sick and imprisoned, burying the dead, and clothing the naked.
One prominent feature of the scene was the figure of a naked man lying on a straw and being offered a cloth by a pilgrim. According to Life Site News, the figure of the naked man is just opposite of the spot where the figure of the baby Jesus will be placed on Christmas Day.
Breitbart News reported that Facebook rejected an advertisement featuring the image of the scene with the following explanation: "Your ad can't include images that are sexually suggestive or provocative."
The photo of the image was first posted on Twitter on Dec. 12 by veteran Vatican journalist Edward Pentin. Since that time the image has been circulated on social media and has produced shock and dismay among Catholics. Some have called it "disgusting" while others noted that the naked man is "too much a poster boy for the local gym to be a man in need of corporeal mercy."
The creator of the scene, Antonio Cantone, appeared to suggest that he intended his work to be provocative.
"It is not a campy nativity; it is particular and makes you think. It leaves no one indifferent; there are provocations," he said.
Franciscan Fr. John Puodziunas, a friar from Philadelphia who is now general treasurer of the Order of Friars Minor, said that he initially did not like the nativity scene. However, as he stood in St. Peter's Square, he said that he eventually realized that the display "really captures what I believe the Nativity set is about. It's about 'Where am I today? Where is the world today? Where is the church today?'"
Pope Francis is expected to spend time before the Nativity scene in silent prayer on Dec. 31 after Vespers and the chanting of the ancient prayer to the Holy Trinity in St. Peter's Basilica.
At the inauguration of the display on Dec. 7, the pontiff explained that the Nativity scene was executed in the typical style of Neapolitan art and was inspired by the works of mercy.
"They remind us that the Lord has told us: 'Whatever you wish men to do to you, you also do to them' (Mt 7.12). The crib is the suggestive place where we contemplate Jesus who, taking upon himself the miseries of man, invites us to do likewise, through acts of mercy," the pope said.