May 2, 2006

German bishops seek to ban MTV Pope cartoon

By Tom Armitage

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Catholic leaders launched legal
steps on Tuesday to prevent youth music channel MTV from
broadcasting a controversial cartoon series which depicts the
Pope as a pogo-stick-riding maniac.

Outraged bishops from Pope Benedict XVI's home state of
Bavaria filed a legal injunction against the broadcaster, which
plans to show the first episode of the satirical series
"Popetown" on Wednesday evening.

The injunction says "Popetown" -- which was dropped in
Britain after a wave of protest -- is insulting to Catholics
since it shows the Pope bouncing through St. Peter's in Rome on
a cross-like pogo stick and satirizes religious ceremonies.

"In this way the Catholic faith and the Catholic church are
exposed to ridicule, which is justified neither by the freedom
of opinion, of art, of the press nor of broadcasting," the
archdiocese of Munich and Freising said in a statement.

The youth music channel said it plans to show one episode
and will then gauge viewers' appetite for more.

"We will initially broadcast this first episode and then
will make a decision based on the feedback of the viewers,"
said Mats Wappmann, a spokesman for MTV in Berlin.

The bishops also attacked the television channel for an
advertising campaign which showed Jesus apparently getting down
from the cross to sit in an armchair and watch the program.

The advert's tagline read: Have a laugh instead of hanging

MTV, which airs dating show "Dismissed" and car makeover
program "Pimp My Ride," said it had been prepared for
resistance to "Popetown" but had been taken by surprise over
the extent of the backlash from the Catholic church.

MTV has invited church representatives, a youth political
party and viewers to discuss the merits of the show in a debate
to be broadcast after the cartoon on Wednesday.

The British broadcaster BBC dropped "Popetown" in 2004
after executives decided it was not funny enough to justify the
potential offence it could cause to Christians. However,
episodes are widely available to download on the Internet.

Written by comedian Mackenzie Crook, co-star of Ricky
Gervais's successful sitcom, The Office, "Popetown" depicts the
pontiff as a rotund 77-year-old, obsessed with his pogo-stick
and surrounded by toys.

The workings of the Vatican are portrayed like an office,
with the Pope as boss and his cardinals as scheming managers.