The Dec. 7 episode, entitled "Bloody Mary," revolves around a town's discovery that a statue of the virgin Mary has begun bleeding. The event is dubbed a miracle and the people flock to see the statue, including Pope Benedict XVI, who concludes that the statue is simply menstruating.
Bishop Skylstad made his criticism in a Dec. 14 letter to Tom Freston of Viacom.
“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 Skylstad said.
The letter was posted on the bishops’ conference Web site (www.usccb.org).
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and a board member of a network’s parent company condemned the episode of South Park, saying it was appalling and disrespectful of the virgin Mary.
The league said the program, which aired on Comedy Central network in the United States and the Comedy Network in Canada the day before the feast of the Immaculate Conception, "defiled the virgin Mary."
In a statement issued Dec. 8, the league demanded that Viacom, Comedy Central's parent company, issue an apology to Catholics and pledge to permanently retire the episode and not make it available on DVD.
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.
The letter from Bishop Skylstad follows.
- Mr. Tom Freston
Co-President and Co-COO
New York, NY 10036
December 14, 2005
Dear Mr. Freston,
Viacom has shown extreme insensitivity in airing a South Park episode on Comedy Central which mocks the Blessed Virgin Mary in a tasteless and ugly fashion. This is especially offensive at a time of the year when the Blessed Mother is most commemorated and honored by millions of Christians, including Catholics.
While I am sure that Viacom feels some responsibility not to air everything presented to it by those who create material for your various entertainment enterprises, it is hard to imagine where you would draw the line, given this offensive programming.
While artists have the right to freedom of expression, you also have the right and responsibility to exercise some discernment so that your organization is not associated with material that grievously and gratuitously offends the sensitivities of large number of your viewers.
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.
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend William S. Skylstad
Bishop of Spokane
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops