The pope has childish habits in ‘Popetown’

BERLIN – The music channel MTV is planning to present the controversial “Popetown” cartoon series to its viewers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, causing outrage among German Catholics and Protestants.

The 10-part series, starting May 3, depicts the pope as a fat infantile figure bouncing on a pogo stick through the Vatican, surrounded by a bunch of corrupt cardinals. The BBC commissioned the series in 2004, but it was deemed too offensive for public viewing in the United Kingdom. The cartoons are available on DVD but have only been shown on TV in New Zealand.

Protests in Germany have also been aroused by an advertising campaign for the TV series. Full-page advertisements show a grinning man with a crown of thorns sitting in an easy chair in front of a cross. The advert bears the slogan “Laugh instead of hanging around.”

MTV withdrew the advertisement after the German Advertising Standards Agency issued a public rebuke today and accused the channel of hurting religious feelings. MTV rejects this allegation and is going ahead with plans to air the series.

Father Nicholas, right, reportedly looks to do good deeds while getting distracted by others in ‘Popetown’

The Catholic German Bishop’s Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics – the lay umbrella organization – have issued strongly worded protests against the series.

The Catholic initiative “Never Again” is threatening legal action against MTV, and the Christian newspaper “Verse 1” has started a boycott campaign on the Internet.

Some evangelicals have joined the protests. The chairman of the Association for Bible and Confession in Bavaria, Andreas Spaeth, is deeply concerned that the media should be allowed to mock the Christian faith while treating Islam with great caution and consideration in similar circumstances.

The spokesman for the mainline Protestant Churches in Germany, Christof Vetter, welcomed the swift reaction of the advertising authority and the withdrawal of the commercial. The church would, however, only comment on the cartoon series itself after it had watched it, Vetter told the evangelical news agency “idea.”

The Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church each have close to 26 million members in Germany, almost two thirds of the total population of 82 million.

The 10-episode animated series, commissioned in 2002 before the death of Pope John Paul II, tells the tale of the long-suffering Father Nicholas, a good man who has to cope with life’s ups and downs in the fictional bureaucracy in which he lives.

That bureaucracy just happens to the Vatican, which features an American pope, corrupt cardinals, plots suggesting bestiality, and egotistical Vatican reporter based on Nicole Kidman’s character in the movie “To Die For.”

“Penelope is the kind of self-obsessed reporter who says, ‘I am going to look so fat’ before going live from a Somalian refugee camp,” notes the show’s website.

Jerry Hall provides the voice for Sister Penelope, a self-absorbed reporter

Sister Penelope is voiced by Mick Jagger’s ex-wife, Jerry Hall, while the pope’s pipes belong to comedienne Ruby Wax.

“She’s got that yap, yap, yap kind of voice which is like Cartman from ‘South Park,'” said executive producer Alan Marke about Wax.

But the creators say despite its irreverence, the cartoon is not intended to offend anyone.

Its website states: “Sure, it is a place where assembly lines flatten small balls of dough with mallets, transforming them into holy wafers. But ‘Popetown’ is not about the Vatican; it is about the hierarchy and bureaucracy in any company.”

“Religion never comes up at all in any of the scripts,” said Marke. “We’re just poking fun at any organization.”

In New Zealand, bishops have urged the nation’s 500,000 Catholics to boycott channel C4 which airs the show. C4 is owned by Canadian broadcaster CanWest, which claims “Popetown” is not offensive.

Lyndsay Freer, director of Catholic Communications in Auckland, says church leaders are doing what they can to try to get the program off the air.

“In their letter to parishes throughout New Zealand, the bishops point out that ‘Popetown’ ridicules the pope by depicting him as a cretinous, dirty, spoiled brat, and the curial cardinals as venal and dishonest,” she said. “It also implies a predilection on the part of one Vatican-based priest for exotic animals in a way that suggests moral degeneration of an appalling kind.”


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Wolfgang Polzer is senior news editor of the evangelical news agency idea in Wetzlar, Germany, which he joined in 1981. In all, he has spent 29 years in Christian media.

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