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Catholic Church Plots Next Move as "Popetown" Airs

DW staff (nda)
May 4, 2006

MTV Germany risked incurring further wrath from the Catholic Church Wednesday when it went ahead with the planned broadcasting of a single test episode of the irreverent cartoon series "Popetown."

The Catholic Church has MTV's "Popetown" cartoon in its sightsImage: BBC

Amid a storm of protests from a long line of church leaders that went all the way up to the Vatican, MTV ran a test episode of the show -- which features a squat, gun-toting pontiff -- to gauge opinion and then broadcasted a panel discussion after the screening.

During the airing of the show, which has drawn massive protests wherever it has been shown, from Canada to New Zealand, MTV urged its viewers to phone in or comment via the Internet, saying that the decision to continue with the proposed 10-part series would depend on the reactions of the audience.

A statement from MTV said that an official decision by the broadcaster on the future of the show would be made next week.

A phone survey was also conducted among viewers between the ages of 14 and 39. An MTV source later revealed that 78 percent were in favor of the show.

Under the title "How Far Can Satire Go?", members of Germany's Catholic Youth Association, media analysts, politicians, German pop stars and MTV viewers debated the controversial show. However, the most vehement critics of "Popetown" -- the archdiocese of Munich -- failed to attend.

Diverse panel set up to discuss the boundaries of satire

Those who did attend included Dirk Tänzler of the board of directors of the Alliance of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), Joachim von Gottberg from German television's regulatory body (FSF), rapper Smudo from German band Die Fantastischen Vier and the chairman of the Young Liberals, Johannes Vogel.

Gottberg told the panel that the FSF had watched the show before it was shown and had concluded that "Popetown" was not a danger, giving MTV the green light to broadcast. "Nobody believes that this is a representation of reality,” he said.

When asked if the beliefs of children would be damaged or their faith in the church shaken by the show, Gottberg said that showing "Popetown" at a later time would help to protect younger children between the ages of four and 12 who would not understand the irony of the show.

Older kids know what reality is, says TV standards boss

Popetown, neue Serie auf MTV
The real pope's behavior differs greatly from the show'sImage: BBC

"Every 12-year old knows that the pope is not an immature child-like figure," he added. The pontiff in the show often acts like an offensive child, declaring in one episode that he hates orphans "like the plague" and that receiving them is "really crap." Gottberg concluded: "It is unlikely that the show would be pulled just because feelings are hurt."

Rapper Smudo said that the row concerning "Popetown" had benefited MTV at the expense of the image of the Catholic Church and added that if anything should be banned it should be Germany's conservative parties which he felt damaged democracy by attempting to restrict free speech and expression in art.

Conservative politician Joachim Herrmann earlier this week filed an injunction against MTV over its advertisement for the show which portrayed an empty cross next to a man with a crown of thorns and bloody wounds giggling in front of his television.

The Christian Social Union (CSU) -- which is the sister party of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and is based in Bavaria, the current pope's state of birth -- issued its protests to the panel in writing. "Such a program has no place on German television," wrote CSU Secretary General Markus Söder.

German Catholic Youth representative Tänzler criticized the show, saying that it "denigrated" the cross and went too far. "I would recommend that MTV stops its broadcast of this show," Tänzler said, adding that the show was banal and had nothing to do with satire.

Archdiocese of Munich pushes for ban

Popetown, neue Serie auf MTV
The church is undetered by its initial failure to have the show bannedImage: BBC

After the episode was shown, the archdiocese of Munich was considering its next step in its bid to have the show taken off German television, vowing to do all it could to prevent the series -- which is available on DVD -- from being broadcast.

The archdiocese had filed a legal injunction against MTV Germany on Tuesday in an attempt to block the broadcast of the "blasphemous" cartoon.

The bishops in Pope Benedict XVI's largely Catholic home state of Bavaria, southern Germany, called the show "a collective insult to practicing Catholics" and claimed the dialogues in the dubbed German version of the cartoon were even more blasphemous against the pope and the Eucharist than the excerpts available on the Internet.

MTV offered the single test episode as a compromise solution to the archdiocese's calls for a complete ban, but the bishops have continued to call for the show to be pulled, calling MTV's offer "perfidious."