Hippy, playboy Jesus ad riles bishops

Brussels, Belgium - Catholic bishops in Belgium have protested against a TV advertisement depicting a pot-bellied, hippy Jesus performing miracles and picking up scantily-clad girls up in a nightclub, a church spokesperson said on Friday.

"We have expressed our disapproval to the president of RTL's administrative council," Jacques Santer and the ethical advertising body, demanding the withdrawal of this publicity campaign, Father Eric de Beukelaer told AFP.

RTL, one of the biggest media groups in Europe, is running the ad on its main Belgian channel to promote Plug youth television, portrayed in the offending item as the coolest thing that even Jesus, with all his powers, could hope for.

"The Belgian Church is used to retaining a sense of humour on religious subjects," De Beukelaer said.

"In the name of freedom of expression, it avoids attacking cartoonists, but advertising is different," he added.

"An advert for cheese or pate featuring gourmet priests or nuns is one thing, but to turn Jesus into a walking billboard, that crosses the line," he said, stressing that along with tolerance must be respect for the sensitivities of believers.

"To see Jesus depicted as a good-for-nothing, backwards adolescent, that crosses the limits of respectability," he added.

The advertisement ends with God admonishing his son Jesus for demanding a subscription to Plug TV, thundering "you still want more!"

Plug TV and RTL-TVI defended the advert, also being shown in cinemas, arguing that it was not blasphemous but contained a message about a "laid-back Jesus addressing youth".

De Beukelaer said that neither RTL nor the ethics panel had responded to a letter from the bishops, adding that the Catholic Church wanted to make its point without having to resort to legal measures.