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German bishops seek to ban MTV Pope cartoon

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, May 3 (Reuters) German Catholic leaders launched legal steps on Tuesday to prevent youth music channel MTV from broadcasting a controversial cartoon series which depicts the Pope as a pogo-stick-riding maniac.

Outraged bishops from Pope Benedict XVI's home state of Bavaria filed a legal injunction against the broadcaster, which plans to show the first episode of the satirical series ''Popetown'' today evening.

The injunction says ''Popetown'' -- which was dropped in Britain after a wave of protest -- is insulting to Catholics since it shows the Pope bouncing through St. Peter's in Rome on a cross-like pogo stick and satirises religious ceremonies.

''In this way the Catholic faith and the Catholic church are exposed to ridicule, which is justified neither by the freedom of opinion, of art, of the press nor of broadcasting,'' the archdiocese of Munich and Freising said in a statement.

The youth music channel said it plans to show one episode and will then gauge viewers' appetite for more.

''We will initially broadcast this first episode and then will make a decision based on the feedback of the viewers,'' said Mats Wappmann, a spokesman for MTV in Berlin.

The bishops also attacked the television channel for an advertising campaign which showed Jesus apparently getting down from the cross to sit in an armchair and watch the programme.

The advert's tagline read: Have a laugh instead of hanging around.

MTV, which airs dating show ''Dismissed'' and car makeover programme ''Pimp My Ride'', said it had been prepared for resistance to ''Popetown'' but had been taken by surprise over the extent of the backlash from the Catholic church.

MTV has invited church representatives, a youth political party and viewers to discuss the merits of the show in a debate to be broadcast after the cartoon on Wednesday.

The British broadcaster BBC dropped ''Popetown'' in 2004 after executives decided it was not funny enough to justify the potential offence it could cause to Christians. However, episodes are widely available to download on the Internet.

Written by comedian Mackenzie Crook, co-star of Ricky Gervais's successful sitcom, The Office, ''Popetown'' depicts the pontiff as a rotund 77-year-old, obsessed with his pogo-stick and surrounded by toys.

The workings of the Vatican are portrayed like an office, with the Pope as boss and his cardinals as scheming managers.

Reuters CH DB0953

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