The controversial illustration accompanies a two-page article on the role of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI, and senior Irish clerics in investigating claims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
On RTÉ’s Liveline radio programme, listeners aired their protestation at the image, which they said was damaging to the country’s priests.
Callers also claimed that the illustration was designed purely to boost magazine sales. This was denied by Hot Press bosses.
“I think you’re copying Benetton’s approach to sell your magazine,” said one caller to Joe Duffy’s radio programme, referring to the clothing company’s previous ad campaigns which caused debate due to their religious and social themes.
“I don’t like the image because you’re enhancing the view that priests are perverts and blackening them all,” the caller said.
A female listener to the show said members of the Catholic clergy do not masturbate and it was disgraceful to suggest this.
However Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said the magazine had received numerous calls of support.
The illustration, covering most of the second page, was drawn by David Rooney and carried the artist’s caption: The Good Priest.
“David is one of the best media artists around and he contributes his work for each issue, usually on a topic of the moment,” Mr Stokes said.
“This piece is a view about the way the Catholic Church’s teaching has shrouded sexuality in a cloud of filth, guilt and sin. There wasn’t one moment at which it was considered if this would increase or decrease sales, it was a comment by somebody of real standing as an artist about an issue of national importance,” he said.
Mr Stokes’ editorial piece in the current issue also raises questions about Catholic teaching on sexuality.
“There is nothing at all wrong with sexual activities of any kind between consenting adults. Nor is there anything wrong with satisfying a sexual craving by engaging in solo sexual gratification,” he wrote.