Facebook issues apology over removal of ad with image of crucified Jesus

The Facebook logo is displayed on their website in an illustration photo taken in Bordeaux, France, February 1, 2017. | Reuters/Regis Duvignau

Facebook has issued an apology for banning a Catholic university's advertisement that contained an image of Christ on the cross.

The advertisement, which features the San Damiano Cross, was posted by the Franciscan University of Steubenville on Facebook on Friday, but it was subsequently removed because the image was flagged as "shocking, sensational, or excessively violent."

The post was part of the university's advertisement campaign to promote its online theology programs.

The university decried the removal in a blog post, saying: "The San Damiano Cross. Jesus in glory, reigning from his cruciform throne. This is what the monitors at Facebook consider excessively violent, sensational, and shocking. And indeed, the Crucifixion of Christ was all of those things. It was the most sensational action in history: man executed his God."

On Wednesday, a Facebook spokesperson apologized for the removal and acknowledged that the image "does not violate our ad policies." The social media giant stated that the advertisement had been officially approved on Monday.

Tom Crowe, web communications director for the university, said he believes that the removal was not caused by a Facebook algorithm, but a low-level employee who may have an animosity towards Christianity.

"I'll reiterate that I'm not claiming systemic religious bigotry at Facebook, but in this case it seems something like that happened in a one-off situation," he told Fox News.

Crowe said that he is hoping that the rejection would remind people to "take another look at the cross and see what God did for us."

"Whether it's a return to faith or an investigation of this weird thing called Christianity," he added.

He stated in his blog post that the violence suffered by Christ on the cross is a demonstration of his love for humanity. He further argued that it was not the nails that bound Christ to the cross but his love for mankind.

The San Damiano Cross is most commonly associated with St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order and the patron of the university. In an interview with Fox News, Crowe explained that the cross is believed to be the vessel through which God spoke to St. Francis.

The icon does not depict Christ in agony, as Franciscans believe that the crucifixion symbolizes his glory and reign. It shows Jesus wearing a garment that is said to have been worn by Jewish priests when they offered sacrifices in the Temple. The image is believed to depict a fulfillment of the old covenant and the sacrifice of the Father, with Jesus as the high priest.