Church may send Mario complaint to watchdog

The Catholic Communications Office is considering whether to lodge an official complaint with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland after RTÉ stood over a controversial sketch by comedian Mario Rosenstock.

The sketch depicted a man in a church spitting into a bucket, with Rosenstock claiming the joke was not aimed at the Church but was a reference to the phenomenon of Irish Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor.

The CCO wrote to RTÉ claiming that “to parody the reception of the Eucharist in such a manner goes beyond basic standards of taste and decency which we should be able to expect from our national public service broadcaster”.

The letter was written by Martin Long, CCO director, who said that while the Church was not “beyond humour ... a line must be drawn”, adding: “To make fun of this sacred act is sacrilege and is offensive to the core belief of the Church.”

Yesterday the CCO got a response from Peter Feeney, head of broadcast compliance at RTÉ, in which he said: “RTÉ accepts that the item might cause offence to some viewers.”

He added: “Spitting in public is frequently regarded as offensive. While the offence may be mild relative to other behaviour it may be fair to say that any person spitting at Mass at the moment of presentation of the Eucharist would be likely to be regarded as notably disrespectful and unsettling to most people witnessing it.

“RTÉ believes there is a need to set the potential for offence against the proper latitude that must be affor-ded to comedy and satire.”

“This programme must engage with and depict persons, institutions, organisations and other familiar entities and norms in society and behaviour. It will by its nature offer depictions which may be extreme, absurd, bizarre and which will be recognised as caricature.

“RTÉ has an obligation to maintain and defend creative latitude in this regard and believes that undue restraint would be damaging.”

He said the target of the sketch was “the variation in public behaviour caused by high-impact positive public events, in this instance public warmth in response to boxer Katie Taylor’s Olympic victory” and that the spitting was “not directed against the priest nor is it any kind of protest”.

It is understood the CCO will study the response before deciding whether to complain to the BAI.

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