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British Catholic anger at BBC's pogo stick Pope

Catholics in the UK have written to the BBC complaining about a planned cartoon show mocking the pope as a puerile preacher on a pogo stick.

Petitions are circulating in parishes and some Catholics are even risking jail by refusing to pay television tax if the scheduled mid-year broadcast of the show goes ahead.

"I am not prepared to pay for the Holy Father to be mocked," said human rights activist James Mawdsley who met Pope John Paul II after the Vatican intervened to have the campaigner released from a Burmese jail.

Luke Coppen of the Catholic Herald newspaper said the cartoon was "gratuitously insulting" and had caused "quite a big uproar." The BBC said complaints about "Popetown" - a satirical cartoon about office politics in the Vatican - had numbered "a few thousand."

Extracts from the show have appeared on the Internet where discussion boards are said to be buzzing.

The clash comes at a critical time for the BBC. A dispute with the government over its reporting of the run-up to war with Iraq left the corporation bloodied and weakened. And now its future funding is up for review.

Last week, it was accused of caving in to the government after several lines were cut from its satirical radio show "Absolute Power," which poked fun at Prime Minister Tony Blair and the culture of spin.

The BBC declined to comment on media reports that it was thinking of shelving Popetown.

Meanwhile Birmingham Archbishop Vincent Nichols expressed guarded sympathy for the BBC yesterday in a different context.

"I am pleased to express my support for the BBC at this difficult time for the Corporation," he said. "As I said in my statement on 30 January: I share the view that a positive way forward for the BBC is now being shaped."

Catholic Backlash Over BBC's Pope on a Pogo Stick (Reuters 10/2/04)
Archbishop Vincent Nichols expresses support for BBC (Independent Catholic News 10/2/04)

BBC Popetown
UK Catholics angry over BBC's pogoing Pope (25/3/03)
BBC cartoon ignites Catholic fury (Media Guardian 9/2/04)
Archbishop Attacks 'Tabloid' BBC (The Scotsman 4/2/04)
Scottish Archbishop protests at BBC's 'anti-Catholic bias' (Independent Catholic News 4/2/04)
BBC accused of 'gross insensitivity' to Catholics (The Guardian 4/2/04)
Archbishop Conti accuses BBC of bias against Catholic church (Scottish Herald 4/2/04)

11 Feb 2004