HAMILTON, New Zealand (NZ Catholic) – The New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference has decided to lodge a complaint with the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority over the airing of the controversial “Bloody Mary” episode of South Park.
Bishop Denis Browne, New Zealand bishops' conference president, confirmed the complaint against the broadcast Can West would then be sent to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, reported NZ Catholic on April 19.
The bishops allege the Feb. 22, 2006, airing of episode, which features a menstruating statue of the Virgin Mary, breaches two codes in the free-to-air broadcasting standards: good taste and decency, and fairness.
The chief operating officer of the broadcaster that aired the controversial “Bloody Mary” episode of the cartoon satire South Park apologized on March 23 for any offense caused, while the New Zealand Catholic Communications director called the apology "self-serving."
"C4 acknowledges the strength of feeling in relation to the program, and we sincerely apologize for any offense taken," Rick Friesen, chief operating officer of C4 and its parent company, CanWest MediaWorks, said in a statement.
The “Bloody Mary” episode depicts a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary, prompting Pope Benedict XVI to be called in to investigate. He concludes that the statue is menstruating and he and a group of cardinals are sprayed with blood from the statue.
"We have detected a shift in the public's perspective on matters of a religious nature,” Friesen said. “As a result, we have reviewed our internal processes for dealing with religious programs, particularly in relation to religious satire."
"Finally, in recognition of the strong reaction to this matter, we have made the decision not to take up our rights to repeat this episode of South Park," he said.
Comedy Central, which broadcast the show in the United States in December, also decided to cancel scheduled repeats of the episode.
”They knew in advance that screening ‘Bloody Mary’ would give deep and widespread offense, given the correspondence they had received in advance from Christian leaders and leaders of other faiths. Yet they still went ahead and screened the program," Catholic Communications national director Lyndsay Freer said.
"CanWest was wrong and now seeks to restore its position with a semi-apology. Clearly they are feeling the heat and are taken aback by the extent of the offense and outrage that has been caused."
Freer questioned the broadcaster's claim that it has "detected a shift in the public's perspective." "What they really mean is that they have learned the hard way that the public will not put up with arrogant denigration of groups of their fellow citizens simply because the media perceives that it can get away with it."
In February, the Catholic Church in New Zealand described the decision to air the controversial “Bloody Mary” episode of South Park Feb. 22 – 11 weeks ahead of schedule – as “arrogant” and “cynical,” and urged Catholics opposed to the screening to consider boycotting the station and their advertisers.
The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, in conjunction with other religious leaders, asked CanWest to not screen the episode. The letter to CanWest said “the program’s tasteless and ugly depiction of Mary, the mother of Jesus, will give grievous and gratuitous offense to large numbers of your viewers.”
In a Feb. 14 pastoral letter, the Catholic bishops said “press freedom is not a license to incite intolerance or to promote hatred or derision based on religion, race or gender.”
The bishops said the show was the latest in a line of insults to the church. “The Catholic Church has long been regarded as fair game for satire and derision. We believe that while most of us have a sense of humor, there are some things that go beyond the bounds,” they said.
During the broadcast, a group of about 400 concerned Catholics chose to pray the Rosary and sing hymns to the Virgin Mary outside C4’s studio.
In the United States, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decried the airing of the episode on Dec. 7 as “tasteless and ugly” reflecting “extreme insensitivity,” in a letter to the co-president and chief operating officer of Viacom International which operates Comedy Center.
“I hope you will appreciate the gravity of the hurt this program has caused and that you will not permit your networks to be used to give similar offense in the future,” Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said in a Dec. 14 letter to Tom Freston of Viacom.
Viacom board member Joseph Califano Jr., a Catholic, also condemned the episode Dec. 9, after viewing it.
"I found it an appalling and disgusting portrayal of the virgin Mary. It is particularly troubling to me as a Roman Catholic that the segment has run on the eve and day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day for Roman Catholics," Califano said in a statement. He called for a review of the show by Viacom’s Freston.
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Catholic Online contributed to this report.
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Gavin Abraham is managing editor of the NZ Catholic.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of NZ Catholic, New Zealand’s national Catholic newspaper, a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner.
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