PETA protesters in Vienna. Signs say “You should not kill.” (Courtesy Kronen Zeitung, Vienna)

The edgy animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals stirred controversy in Vienna on Good Friday with a protest to symbolically “crucify” three activists wearing animal masks outside the city’s famous Catholic cathedral.

The blood-smeared activists each carried a cross as nearby protesters in the square outside St. Stephen’s Cathedral held signs with messages such as “We suffer and die for your sins of nourishment.”

Bruce Friedrich, spokesman for PETA in the U.S., told WorldNetDaily causing offense was not the goal, but if there are any objections they should be about suffering animals, not “street theater.”

“Words and images aren’t offensive to God,” he said. “What is offensive to God is the satanic treatment of God’s creature by factory farms and slaughterhouses.”

PETA said it wanted to capture the attention of consumers who ignored the suffering of animals, but the local parliamentary representative condemned the protest.

A spokeswoman for Ursula Stenzel of the conservative People’s Party called it a “mockery of a religious community on one of the most important days of the Christians.”

“The action would be more blasphemy than animal protection,” said Angelika Mayrhofer-Battlogg, according to the South African news service

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

The Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna, News24 reported, called the action a “completely unacceptable falsification of the religious dimension of Good Friday.”

The statement said that while PETA may have good intentions, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was not suited “to transport secondary messages.”

Also, the square outside St. Stephen’s, built in the 12th century, was a “sensitive” place.

Friedrich pointed out Pope Benedict spoke out against abuses in factory farming when he was a cardinal, but the PETA spokesman believes the church “could speak out more voiciferously” and should be on the “forefront” of protests.

But why pick on Christians and the Catholic Church with such a provocative demonstration?

“There’s no intention to pick on anyone,” Friedrich replied. “We attempt to raise anyone’s awareness that eating meat is a violation of all religions, the spirit of compassion that infuses all religions.”

Friedrich added that, “As a Roman Catholic myself, what I find offensive is that Christians would deny God’s creatures their every desire and need and cause them to suffer.”

Meanwhile, in Sydney, Australia, a PETA billboard ad depicting a bloody, crucified lamb was refused space this Easter, The Australian newspaper reported.

PETA has been running an international campaign against sheep mulesing in Australia, the surgical removal of folds of skin from the backsides of sheep to prevent the painful and sometimes fatal condition of fly strike.

But PETA said the “lamb on a crucifix reminds us that these gentle animals are mutilated, tormented and killed every day in Australia for nothing more than very un-Christian greed.”

“If Christ were here, he would show mercy to these lambs, so we’re asking the Australian government to follow his compassionate example and bring an end to these two hideous abuses.”

Last year a report on PETA found the group doesn’t play religious favorites – it offends all major faiths with its advocacy techniques.

The report, “Holy Cows: How PETA Twists Religion to Push Animal ‘Rights,'” according to its producer the Center for Consumer Freedom, documents how PETA “hijacks religious rituals and institutions in an attempt to impose its stated philosophy of ‘total animal liberation.'”

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