Bill Donohue says he’s okay with “gentle fun” being poked at his faith. But the Catholic watchdog says The Simpsons went too far on Sunday when they cracked wise about the Eucharist.
At issue is this year’s installment of the annual Halloween episode. One of the three stories – and we’re taking Donohue’s word for it, because we didn’t catch the show – involved people in Springfield becoming zombies after eating hamburgers infected with tainted meat.
Bart tries one of the infected hamburgers, but proves immune to the virus, and so becomes the “Chosen One.” When the Simpsons reach a safe zone with other uninfected people, a guard says, “Welcome, son. To survive, all we must do is eat your flesh.” Which leads Marge to ask: “What kind of civilized people eat the body and blood of their savior?”
“What kind of uncivilized people work at Fox?” asked Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and the author of “Secular Sabatoge: How Liberals Are Destroying Religion and Culture in America.”
“Last year, when they poked some gentle fun at the Apostle’s Creed on the Halloween episode, we said nothing,” Donohue said. ”That’s because it didn’t cross the line. This year is different: mocking the heart of any religion always crosses the line, and mocking the Eucharist does it for Catholics. They know this at Fox, which is precisely why they did it.”
His statement includes the name and e-mail address of Fox Broadcasting's chairman of entertainment.
John Gehring of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, meanwhile, is decrying the media reliance on Donohue as a spokesman for the faith on the Washington Post’s On Faith blog."While Donohue's bluster makes for sensational television," Gehring writes, "he rarely raises his voice to speak about issues at the heart of Catholic social teaching. While the U.S. Catholic bishops' 2008 election-year statement on political responsibility emphasized a consistent ethic of life tradition that recognizes torture, unjust war, the death penalty, genocide, racism and poverty as 'direct assaults on innocent human life,' Donohue is uncharacteristically mute on these points. Abortion is not the only 'life issue' for Catholics."
Back to The Simpsons: It isn’t the first time the long-running animated comedy has drawn Donohue’s ire. A decade ago, he complained about a couple of episodes in the same season. In the first, aired in November 1998, a hungry Bart asks Marge, "Mom, can we go Catholic so we can get Communion wafers and booze?" She replies: "No one is going Catholic. Three children is enough, thank you."
The second episode aired on Super Bowl Sunday 1999, and included a scene in which Marge and Lisa were watching a television advertisement during the iconic sporting event. As Los Angeles Times columnist Howard Rosenberg described it:
Inspired by an old ZZ Top video, the commercial spoof showed a dusty service station where a car pulled up to the pumps and the nerdy driver got out, looked around and hit the horn. Gyrating to rock music, three scantily clad babes emerged from the station seductively, and as the driver's eyes widened, they suggestively flipped open the hood, shook off the squeegee and plunged the gas nozzle into the tank. The driver was even more excited when spotting a glittering cross hanging in one of the wiggling female's ample cleavage.
Voice-over: "The Catholic Church: We've made a few . . . changes."
Rosenberg was writing about Donohue’s apparent effectiveness. His 1999 column described the decision of Fox to change “The Catholic Church” to “The Church” for subsequent broadcasts, under pressure from the Catholic League.
Simpsons executive producer Mike Scully told Rosenberg that he was asked to make the change by Fox’s vice president of broadcast standards. When Scully balked, he said, the Fox executive suggested changing it to "Methodists, Presbyterians or Baptists" – anything but Catholic.
"When I asked what would be the difference changing it to another religion, and wouldn't that just be offending a different group of people,” Scully told Rosenberg, “he explained that Fox had already had trouble with Catholics earlier this season."