Catholic Church loses appeal over South Park episode

Wellington, New Zealand - The Catholic Church is "surprised, shocked and disappointed" after losing a High Court appeal over a controversial episode of the television show South Park.

The episode, which screened on Canwest channel C4 in February last year, featured a statue of the Virgin Mary spraying menstrual blood on a cardinal and the Pope.

Catholic communication coordinator Lindsay Freer said though the church was not able to re-appeal the court's ruling, it would continue to advocate for decency in the media.

"We are very surprised at what appears to be some inconsistencies in his decision," she told NZPA.

Canwest's lawyers defended the screening of the programme on grounds of free speech, while the Bishop's lawyers attacked it because it infringed on good taste, decency and fairness.

In May, New Zealand's Catholic bishops appealed a decision by the Broadcasting Standards Authority over the episode, calling it "tasteless, crass and ugly".

C4's decision to screen the episode sparked intense protest from the church. A candlelight vigil was held outside MediaWorks' Auckland office.

The church also said the judge's decision did not refer to "a significant factor of the complaint - namely the denigration of women".

"Will it encourage the less responsible sections of the media to push the limits of decency and good taste beyond bounds acceptable to the majority of New Zealanders?" the church asked.

Ms Freer said the bishops had no official reaction to having to pay Canwest $8000 in costs, as it had not yet been formally told to hand over the money.

"Certainly the church is not in the business of contempt of court. If the judge has ordered costs, he's ordered costs," Ms Freer said.

The Bishops' lawyers found they could not launch another appeal against this type of decision.

"[But] it's a situation that will not go away. It has raised issues," she said.

Brent Impey, chief executive of C4 owner MediaWorks, said the broadcaster was pleased with the ruling: "It's a victory for freedom of speech and we'll be claiming against the Catholic Church for costs."