Israeli TV Satire of Christianity Draws Ire from Believers

An Israeli TV show host has outraged Christians in the Holy Land and elsewhere with a satire mocking Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Late-night show host Lior Shlein aired two separate segments on Feb. 16 and 17 that depicts Mary as a promiscuous teen and Jesus as an obese man who could not walk on water, according to Ecumenical News International. The program also mocks the death of Jesus, suggesting that he died at a young age because he was fat.

The satire, Shlein said, was in retaliation to a statement by Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X who has denied that Jews died in Nazi gas chambers during World War II.

Christians have not accepted Shlein's explanation as an excuse for his religiously offensive program. Parliament member Hana Sweid, the only Christian in the Israeli parliament, filed a legal complaint against the television station that aired the segments.

The Vatican has also denounced what it calls a "blasphemous" satire of Christianity, according to Catholic News Service.

"Such a vulgar and offensive act of intolerance toward the religious sentiments of believers in Christ must be deplored," the Vatican statement said. It pointed out that the religious figures being satirized were themselves "children of Israel."

The Vatican said its representative in Jerusalem has been assured by the Israeli government that it would take measures to prevent such programs to be aired in the future. The Israeli government also said it would try to procure a public apology from the television network.

After the outcry from Christians, Shlein publicly apologized for offending Christians on his Feb. 18 program.

But the chairman of a Christian legal organization, Salim Kubti, dismissed the apology as weak and unacceptable, according to ENI. Kubti noted that several of his colleagues have started an online petition to urge Pope Benedict XVI to cancel his scheduled trip to the Holy Land in May as a protest to the disrespectful program.

In less than 20 hours, Kubti said, the petition had garnered more than 2,000 signatories.

"Channel 10 was used to desecrate the holiest figures of Christianity offending hundreds of thousands of Christian Israeli citizens and of many millions of Christians all over the world as well," said a statement by the Holy Land's Catholic bishops.

"The show directed its attacks to the holiest figures of our Christian belief in an attempt, as the director of the show himself specifically declared, to destroy Christianity," they said.

The Catholic bishops also noted an increase in attacks against Christians in Israel in recent years, including the burning of hundreds of New Testaments last May.

Holy Land Catholic clergies who signed the statement include Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; Elias Chacour, the Greek Melkite Archbishop of Akka; Paul Sayya, Maronite Archbishop of Haifa; Rafael Minassian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch; and Paul Colin, Chaldean Catholic Patriarchal Exarch.