Lithuanian church to sue TV over Pope series

Vilnius, Lithuania - The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Lithuania said the church planned to sue cable music channel MTV Lietuva over the cartoon series "Popetown", which he said mocked the Pope and all Lithuanian Catholics.

The series, which depicts the Pope as a rotund 77-year-old obsessed with his pogo-stick and surrounded by toys, was commissioned by the BBC in Britain in 2002, but dropped in 2004 due to concerns it would offend Catholics.

There were protests against the series in New Zealand and Germany, home country of Pope Benedict, but it has been aired in both. The second episode is due to be aired in Lithuania later on Wednesday.

"We are going to lodge a complaint in court because we believe that the rights of the faithful were violated by this mockery," Lithuanian Bishops' Conference President Sigitas Tamkevicius told Reuters this week.

He did not say when the church would lodge the complaint.

"The Popetown series is not only an insult to the pope, but to all the Catholics of Lithuania," he added.

The court earlier rejected a request from the Bishops' Conference to postpone the show's debut and the first trailer was shown on Dec. 25. The first episode was aired last week.

The series depicts the Vatican as an office where the Pope's cardinals act like scheming managers.

Tamkevicius, who as a priest was persecuted by the Soviet regime, said he sees MTV Lietuva's airing of the series as an attempt to diminish the role of the Church.

The head of the Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Church, Mindaugas Sabutis, told the Delfi news portal the series was an attack against all Christians.

MTV Lietuva, run by MTV Networks Baltic, rejected the suggestion the series was an insult to Catholics.

"This is just an artistic satire and nothing more. We neither attempted to mock the religion, nor God himself," Ema Segal, spokeswoman for MTV Lietuva, said.

MTV Lietuva had received positive viewer feedback and plans to air all 10 episodes, she added.

Andrius Serva, MTV Lietuva programme director, said: "We expected some protests, but not that sort of outcry.

"We think our audience is wise enough to distinguish between the caricature and the religion."