German Catholics offended by “Simpsons”-style cartoon of Vatican

German Catholics call for censorship of seemingly considerably less offensive portrayal of Pope than the Jyllands-Posten cartoons.  Muslims are supposed to take Muhammad with a bomb in his turban in stride at the same time that Catholics are up in arms over the Pope on a pogo stick.  It kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

Now, I should note that I don’t have a problem with Catholics pressuring MTV to drop the series.   Judging by the stills on the website, the programs seems irreverent, if not downright demeaning to the Vatican, so I can’t blame Catholics for taking offense.  And the fact that it’s been shown on a youth-oriented channel like MTV is doubly problematic.  Most importantly, in a free society worth the name we all have a right to protest things that offend us even if others don’t understand what’s bothering us.

I do have a problem, though, with the seeming double standards at work.  A Simpsons-style parody of a religious institution is prompting calls for a ban only months after Muslims were expected to meekly suffer open and intensely politicized attacks on their religion.   (I’d also like to know, just out of curiosity, whether the bishops in question spoke out one way or the other on the cartoons.)

Let’s see how many pundits who until recently were sancitmoniously preaching to muslims about free speech and the legitimacy of satire in a free society will condemn the bishops for their seeming repudiation of those supposedly absolute values.

It seems to boil down not to principles of freedom but whose ox is getting gored.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | German bishops act over Pope show

Catholic leaders in Germany have acted to try to prevent music channel MTV from showing the controversial cartoon series Popetown. 
The first episode of Popetown – which features a Pope on a pogo stick – is due to be aired in the country. 
But bishops from Pope Benedict XVI’s home state of Bavaria say the satirical series is insulting to Catholics, and have filed a legal injunction. 
Popetown was commissioned by the BBC in 2002, but later dropped. 
Viewer feedback 
BBC bosses were concerned the 10-part animation, set in a fictional Vatican, would offend Catholics. 
It shows an elderly Pope bouncing through St Peter’s in Rome on a cross-like pogo stick and satirises religious ceremonies.

Update (2006-08-01): 
Fixed some typos.  Also changed the title (which was "German Catholics offended by cartoon of Pope on pogo stick").

  • thabet

    (Playing devil’s advocate:) The argument from “them” will be that you will not see Catholics attacking people or destroying buildings, especially those whihc have nothing to do with the origins of the cartoon.

  • Svend White

    Thanks for the comment, thabet. I’ve moved my reply here

  • TM Lutas

    The German Church gives up certain rights it would otherwise have in exchange for certain protections. This is set down in a treaty with the Vatican specifically called a “concordat”. These treaties change from place to place (The Reagan administration signed one in the US). If the German concordat is being violated, there’s a reasonable case for a negative reaction for that specific reason without there being any hypocrisy to complain about.
    Since each of these treaties change from country to country, the protections and obligations change. In Germany’s case, you don’t get Catholic clergy saying “you will go to hell if you vote for X” because it is a treaty obligation that they never do so. There is no such obligation in the US so you get much stronger statements regarding voting in the US by churchmen as they are only restrained by internal rules.
    As for the pogo stick, the cover image of the pope with a belt fed gun, a snarl on his face, and obviously about to start killing people is just a *tiny* bit more offensive. This makes me think that the descriptions so far is just the bare start of the offensiveness that is “Popetown”.

  • Svend White

    That’s very interesting about the concordat, PM, but as I see it the fact that they are offended enough to protest illustrates how different standards are at work (unless one assumes that this was he work of two rogue bishops who don’t represent either the Church or popular sensibilities).
    I don’t mean to trivilize the concerns you’re raising, but judging by the stills on the websites the impression I get is that the Pope is being humorously portrayed as a zany *childlike* figure (hence the pogo stick) as opposed to a killer. Such a portrayal is obviously (and quite understandably) offensive to many Catholics–though not all, I suspect–but it might well be lighthearted and even affectionate. The same certainly isn’t the case of Jyllands-Posten campaign.
    So, I think the Muslims “win”–we have the more offensive and openly antagonistic parody.
    Also, the Vatican is a central and widely respected (if not beloved) icon of European identity and history. Some might argue that its inevitable that it be parodied, especially given how secular Europe has become.
    BTW, a sidenote: My understanding is that there are some limitations on Cahtolic churches here for them to retain tax exempt status. One of the the things people on the religious right are always grumblign about is the inability of church leaders to endorse candidates.

  • Svend White

    P.S. I tweaked the language in the first paragraph so as to not offend Catholics, myself (I had written “infinitely less offensive portrayal”; now it’s “seemingly less offensive portrayal”). My aim is not to criticize Catholics for being offended by this program.
    I just want to highlight how there seem to be different standards at work.

  • Hajar

    Great post!
    Would it be a problem if I cross-posted this post? I have three blogs I’d like to post it on, if it’s OK with you. If it’s not OK with you, I understand.

  • TM Lutas

    Svend White – The bishops would not write a letter based on website stills. They would have either sat through the thing themselves or would have commissioned experts to do it for them (one of the benefits of a hierarchical structure is that you can delegate a lot more).
    One of the little bits that would tick off Catholics that you might have missed from stills is that the Pope is voiced by a woman. Furthermore, I went through the popetown website and couldn’t access the trailer but it’s 50/50 on the “pope” being with a gun or without. Most of the time he’s without he has a pogo stick but not exclusively. Essentially he’s an infantalized, malignant troll in this depiction, originally developed at a time when JP II was clearly going downhill health-wise and when rumors were swirling that he was losing his mind.
    So yes, very offensive. Depending on local law, the request for injunction is going to work or not. It would not be done in the US, Holland, or Denmark because it would be counter-productive (the injunction attempt would fail and sales would only be boosted). German law, due to the Nazi suppression laws, is more friendly towards censorship. This artifact of local jurisdiction is at the heart of why I think you see a double standard.
    But that means that it (german law) would be more friendly towards pro-muslim censorship too. Now I’m not a fan of the German system but it’s their right to have more or less censorship.
    Muslims have to navigate the same laws as Catholics and they have the same opportunity (or they should) to pull the same levers. That’s what a rule of law is all about. When muslims figure out how to navigate the currents as well as Catholics, an important step towards equality will have been reached. But we Catholics can’t do it for you.

  • Ambuscade

    Several things, one there is no religious connection.
    Clearly the Catholic church is complaining about the portrayal of the institution the bishops,the pope. (all living breathing persons)
    Second , they are doing the proper thing by going to court (are they even going to court?) and/or filing a complaint, which they will either lose or win.
    Third i haven’t seen Catholics going on a bloody rampage and burning down UN,EU or other Western institutions in response to the cartoon.
    Fourth Muslims have a history of trying to suppress criticism of there religion.
    For instance many Islamic states have death penalty laws against blasphemy and very little to no freedom of speech.
    People like Theo van Gogh,Salmon Rushdie,Ayaan Hirshi Ali,a bunch of Western politicians have all received numerous death threats because they are/were critical of Islam.
    Now i can see the Vatican do a lot of things, but i doubt they will call for the makers of the cartoon to be burned on the stake (like they used to do hundreds of years ago)
    I hope that clears up any possible misconception you might have about equating the two incidents with one another.

  • Ambuscade

    Now let’s review the teachings of Islam on freedom of speech and how Muhammed dealt with the people who were critical of him.
    Now let’s review the teachings of Jesus (not the Catholic church) on people who were critical of him.
    Now let’s review the teachings of Islam on freedom of speech and how Muhammed dealt with the people who were critical of him.
    Now let’s review the teachings of Jesus (not the Catholic church) on people who were critical of Him.
    “love your enemies and bless those who curse you” (Matt. 5:4).

  • TM Lutas

    ambuscade – A little research yielded that the injunction bid failed and that the grounds for denial were that the show was “too dumb to be insulting.” The denied bid to have it banned on the grounds of blasphemy is very likely derivative of the concordat rights negotiated in the 1930s.
    More commentary shows that it wasn’t just the show itself which stirred controversy but the advertising campaign, which started right at the high point of Easter preparations.
    In its motion, the archdiocese of Munich and Freising also called on German authorities to force MTV to pull print ads for the series, which featuring an empty cross and a laughing Jesus sitting in front of a TV with the slogan: “Instead of just hanging around, have a laugh.”
    Now I don’t know about you but making fun of Jesus’ crucifixion is not a blow at the institution of the Church in my book but is aimed at Jesus himself. His Church will defend him, as is its duty. I think maybe you might be a little ignorant of the facts in this particular case and that’s about as generous as I’m likely to manage at this time.
    Your simplistic understanding of the Bible leads me to certain guesses about your theology but they are uncertain so I won’t get into that. Suffice it to say that the idea of Jesus’ teaching on dealing with people who were critical or who were enemies was limited to Matt. 5:4 is very simply incomplete. There are other statements that are in the Bible that, taken together, form a quite practical method of dealing with everybody, enemies included.
    You might try reading the Bible before engaging with outsiders to christianity who might not know any better and take your flawed relaying of christian teaching as orthodox christianity. I will leave your interpretation of Islam to the muslim majority on this board.

  • Ambuscade

    TM Lucas the stated goal of the Catholic church is not to defend Jesus.
    It’s to proclaim the gospel,celebrate the sacraments, and to provide service to all those who are in need.(Vatican II)
    As you might or might not know, the Lord God is perfectly capable of defending himself against all those who oppose him.
    And as the article shows the cartoon was deemed to be “insulting to Catholics”.
    If there even is a legal case it would center around this and not on blasphemy.
    Most European states have blasphemy laws and they have nothing to do with Nazi laws.
    But everything to do with protecting people who wish to worship, and to not be wrongly intruded upon when exercising there particular religious sentiments.
    Throwing a pigs head into a mosque while people are praying, is not considered freedom of expression or religion, but is prosecuted under these blasphemy laws.
    Non of which call for the offender to be killed.
    I will however take your advise to read the Bible,it’s a wonderful book.

  • TM Lutas

    Ambuscade – I do hope you know that not every council recaps the entirety of christianity in its documents. That would just be stupid so they don’t do it. Vatican II also did not state that we were keep the church grounds clean but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a duty to do that.
    Most moms and dads are perfectly capable of defending themselves but that doesn’t mean that their children won’t, or shouldn’t, rise to their defense when they are insulted. The entire point of the discussion is how, as children of God, are we supposed to be doing that, using words or our fists?
    My position is that we should use words, that other faiths are doing the same and that integration into a pluralistic society over the long term can’t be maintained if violence is threatened over blasphemy.