NZ TV to show bleeding Mary cartoon

Wellington, New Zealand - A New Zealand television network says it plans to show a controversial cartoon depicting a statue of the Virgin Mary bleeding, despite a boycott call by Catholic bishops read at masses throughout the country.

New Zealand's seven Catholic bishops signed a pastoral letter read to worshippers at Sunday services dubbing the Bloody Mary episode of the South Park cartoon series due to be screened in May on Channel 4 "ugly and tasteless."

The controversy comes as Muslims around the world continue violent protest demonstrations over a decision by a Danish newspaper to publish, in defence of freedom of speech, a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

New Zealand's bishops urged the country's 500,000 Catholics to boycott Channel 4, its sister station TV3 and advertisers, if the episode is screened.

Rick Friesen, chief operating officer of CanWest TV Works, which owns both channels, told Wellington's Dominion Post the screening would go ahead.

"There's a lot more issues in the world the Catholic and other religions need to be concerned about rather than a half-hour satirical comedy," he said. "It's only television. It's really not that big a deal."

Reports said that the episode was aired on the Comedy Central channel last year in the United States, but a planned repeat was cancelled after a Catholic group protested.

The episode shows a statue of Mary bleeding, which is taken to be a miracle, until Pope Benedict suggests she is simply menstruating.

The statue then starts spurting blood.

The bishops' pastoral letter said that the program was demeaning to Mary and women in general.

"Mary is honoured and commemorated by millions of Christians, including Catholics, and is respected also by people of other faiths," it said.

"The Catholic Church has long been regarded as fair game for satire and derision. We believe that, while most of us have a sense of humour, there are some things that go beyond the bounds."