MPs assail CBC for 'sacrilege'

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

MPs Brad Trost (left) and Andrew Scheer object to a recent CBC pilot show.
OTTAWA -- TWO Conservative Members of Parliament will seek to have the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) answer to a House of Commons committee for a television program the Catholic Civil Rights League has described as blasphemous.

"At various points in the program, the Communion host is depicted as munchable snack food, possible poker chips and a repository for drops of LSD. Drug-laced hosts are left in the confessional for pick-up," said a May 15 League news release about The Altar Boy Gang, a CBC television pilot aired May 11.

MPs Brad Trost (Saskatoon-Humboldt) and Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu'Appelle) have promised to send complaint letters to the CBC's president and will ask colleagues from all parties to help get CBC officials before the Heritage Committee.

"To depict the communion host, something so sacred, in this fashion is an extreme act of sacrilege," Scheer, a Catholic, wrote in a May 16 news release.

"The Holy Eucharist is sacred to millions of Catholics across Canada and around the world," said Trost, who pointed out that this is not the first time the CBC has aired material offensive to Catholics. Comedian Mary Walsh fed a consecrated host to a dog during the program Our Daily Bread. CBC News: Sunday used to run a feature, 'Sunday Confessions,' where host Evan Solomon would interview guests in a mock confessional.

"Within the past year, the CBC hired an independent Muslim Canadian consultant to ensure that religious sensitivities were respected in its program Little Mosque on the Prairie," said League executive director Joanne McGarry.

She asked if any Catholic had previewed The Altar Boy Gang, adding, "If not, why the double standard?"

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The CBC has no plans to run the series or rebroadcast The Altar Boy Gang, made by an independent producer with funding from the Canadian Television Fund (CTF).

"We certainly regret if anyone has taken offence at the program," said CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay in a telephone interview. The Altar Boy Gang is "an absurdist comedy satire," he added. "I don't think anyone should conclude from that that we intended any disrespect to the Catholic Church or any other religions."

Response to the program has been mixed, with much of it coming from news articles about the program rather than the program itself, said Keay. Some positive reaction came from "people self-identifying as Catholics who thought it was hilarious and hoped we would make a series out of it."

"It's not unprecedented for us to put on material that some people would find offensive," Keay said, noting it is one of the risks of putting out programming. "You shouldn't take this as a defense of the program," he said.

CTF communications director MaryBeth McKenzie said the application for CTF funding followed their guidelines. She noted the broadcasters abide by Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics, ensuring programs contain "no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment" based on religion, race, sex and so on.

"It's the broadcaster that determines what kind of program they want to support and air," she said in a telephone interview from Toronto. She said the CBC would have been fully aware of what was in the program, and approved the script prior to production.

Related stories:

Catholics angry at CBC over Altar Boys Gang
A CBC pilot program that portrays altar boys as druggies and the Catholic communion host as "munchable snack food, possible poker chips and a repository for drops of LSD" has sparked a complaint accusing the public broadcaster of blasphemy.
Ottawa Citizen, May 16

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May 24/2007