CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, FEB. 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).-
The recent publication of cartoons satirizing the prophet Mohammed brought many
calls for greater respect of Islamic beliefs. Christians could rightly wonder
when they, too, will receive some respect.
As controversy over the drawings continues, a television station in New Zealand
chose this moment to show a "South Park" episode ridiculing the Virgin Mary and
The "Bloody Mary" episode of the animated series has scenes showing a bleeding
statue of Mary, whose spurting blood covers the Pope, reported the New Zealand
Herald on Monday. Plans by the C4 TV channel, owned by the Canadian media chain
CanWest, to show the episode brought strong protest from New Zealand's Catholic
The bishops issued a pastoral letter, read at all Masses last weekend. "The way
in which Mary is portrayed in this episode is derisive, outrageous and beyond
all acceptable standards of decency and good taste," stated the letter. "Pope
Benedict is also insulted in this episode."
The bishops observed that last year the same company was responsible for
screening "the offensive 'Popetown' series." The Broadcasting Standards
Authority has yet to deal with the complaint made by the bishops.
In their pastoral letter the bishops explained that they wrote to CanWest
several weeks ago, asking the company not to screen the "South Park" episode
"because of the grave offence it would give to all Christians, including
Catholics, and people of other faiths and cultures." Leaders of the Anglican and
Presbyterian churches also signed the letter, along with figures from the Muslim
and Jewish communities. Even New Zealand's prime minister, Helen Clark, a
declared agnostic, commented that she found the cartoon offensive.
CanWest responded to the protests by bringing forward the screening of the
episode, from May 10 to Wednesday this week. According to Wednesday's issue of
the New Zealand Herald, the company informed the Catholic Church's
communications director, Lyndsay Freer, of the decision at 5 p.m. Tuesday. She
was asked to comment on it for the 6 p.m. news bulletin on one of CanWest's
"Given that by far the majority of those involved in the debate have not had the
opportunity to view the episode, we feel it is important to give the public of
New Zealand that chance," said Rick Friesen, chief operating officer of CanWest-owned
The Church has called for a boycott of the television station. And Wednesday's
Herald article reported that Patrick Quin, owner of the agency Max Recruitment,
has withdrawn advertising worth about $4,300 a month from CanWest.
The New Zealand case is far from an isolated episode. Last Nov. 8 the British
newspaper Guardian reported that a French paper had won a court battle giving it
the right to show a cartoon of a naked Jesus wearing a condom.
The daily Liberation was taken to court by a Christian organization after
printing the image in April. A court in Paris described the portrayal as "crude"
but said it did not contravene any laws.
Last Sunday another British newspaper, the Observer, published a commentary by
Nick Cohen, headlined "It's So Cowardly to Attack the Church When We Won't
Cohen described his visit to an art exhibition in London's East End by artists
Gilbert and George. The exhibition is entitled "Sonofagod Pictures: Was Jesus
Heterosexual?" The catalogue described the works as "an assault on the laws and
institutions of superstition and religious belief."
"This isn't a brave assault on all religions, just Catholicism," explained
Cohen. "The gallery owners know that although Catholics will be offended, they
won't harm them." He added: "If they were to do the same to Islam, all hell
would break loose."
Another case is that of popular Swedish jeans, which come with the logo of a
skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead, the Philadelphia Inquirer
reported Jan. 15.
"It is an active statement against Christianity," explained Bjorn Atldax, the
designer of the jeans. "I'm not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike
for organized religion." Atldax said that he wants to make young people question
Christianity, which he called a "force of evil" that had sparked wars throughout
The jeans have been shipped throughout Europe and to Australia, and there are
plans to introduce them to the United States and elsewhere, the Inquirer said.
Around 200,000 pairs have been sold since March 2004.
Attacks on Christianity also abound in the United States. Among the examples
noted Feb. 15 by the Washington Post were: the latest cover of Rolling Stone,
featuring rapper Kanye West wearing Christ's crown of thorns; "South Park's"
"The Spirit of Christmas" short, featuring an obscenity-filled fistfight between
Christ and Santa Claus; a radio show featuring comedian J. Anthony Brown and his
"biblical sayings" from the Last Supper, in which disciples make outrageous
The newspaper also recalled the 1999 controversy when then New York Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani tried to shut down a museum for featuring a painting of the
Virgin Mary covered with elephant dung.
And, at the same time Christianity is held up to ridicule, believers face
obstacles in proclaiming their own faith. A recent case is the decision on
Christmas displays in New York's public schools.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is constitutionally
permissible for the schools to ban the display of the Christian nativity during
Christmas, while permitting the display of the Jewish menorah and the Islamic
star and crescent during Hanukkah and Ramadan. The Thomas More Law Center
reported on the decision in a press release dated Feb. 3.
City authorities defended the policy by arguing that the menorah and star and
crescent were permissible symbols because they were "secular," whereas the
Nativity scene had to be excluded because it was "purely religious." The court
judged that this argument was fallacious, stating that the policy
"mischaracterizes" the symbols. But it still upheld the ban on the Nativity
Further examples abound. In Britain a council-run crematorium removed a wooden
cross from its chapel, for fear of offending non-Christians, the Times reported
last June 9. Torbay Council in Devon also announced that the chapel would in
future be known as the ceremony hall.
A local Anglican vicar, Anthony Macey, observed that the cross had been in the
chapel for nearly 50 years. And Father Paul Connor, the Catholic priest for
Brixham, said: "If the cross offends people they can cover it up. What about the
Christians who are offended by its removal?"
The Second Vatican Council's pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes" addressed
the question of contemporary culture and freedom. Culture, it said in No. 59,
"has constant need of a just liberty in order to develop." For this reason it
has "a certain inviolability," which is, however, not absolute. It is limited by
the common good and the rights of individuals and the community, the document
And concerning these limitations, Benedict XVI commented on the importance of
respecting religious beliefs, during his speech Monday to Morocco's new
ambassador to the Holy See. "It is necessary and urgent that religions and their
symbols be respected," the Pope said.
He added that this implies that "believers not be the object of provocations
that wound their lives and religious sentiments." A principle valid for all
religions, Christianity included.