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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

NSS supports Penn & Teller’s right to attack the Vatican on TV

An American TV show, in which the NSS features, has come under ferocious attack from Catholic groups, who are calling for future series to be dropped. One internet site where the show was available for viewing has taken it down.

P&T Bullshit

But Keith Porteous Wood, one of the interviewees in the show, was unrepentant, saying he was proud to have to been a part of the programme. “Penn & Teller said something that was long overdue – that the Vatican has a lot of answering to do for its corruption, greed and disgraceful attempts to cover up child abuse by its priests. Even worse than that is the damage through its irrational and dishonest opposition to contraception. This is playing a major role in the population explosion that the planet simply cannot support, in unnecessary deaths from AIDS and in massively increasing poverty” he said. “What is truly shocking is that governments and international organisations are unwilling to take on the Vatican, which uses its position as a half church half nation state to maximise its power while minimising its accountability”.

The Penn & Teller “Bullshit!” show, which goes out on the Showtime premium cable channel (owned by CBS), used its season’s last episode to launch an all-out attack on the Vatican.

The uncompromisingly critical assault has enraged the Catholic League, a right-wing group whose head, Bill Donohue, was interviewed on the Fox Channel where he likened Penn & Teller to Nazis.

Mr Donohue said: “The Nazis couldn’t have done better. Having been in this job for over 16 years, I have never seen a more defamatory, obscene and vicious show on TV. And I mean about any religious or demographic group—not just Catholics. The lies about the Catholic Church, to say nothing of the vile language used by Penn Jillette, were positively astounding. Moreover, it never attempted to be comedic—from the very beginning it advertised the show as payback for 2,000 years of alleged crimes.”

Bill Donohue took out an advertisement in the 18 August edition of Variety magazine in which he called for the show to be cancelled. He wrote: “CBS/Showtime needs to send Penn & Teller a message and let them know that they have crossed the line for the last time. This should be their final season. We know that they’ve been told before to drop the Catholic bashing, and yet they persist. By doing so, Penn & Teller have effectively stuck their middle finger right in the eye of CBS.”

Now Catholic websites are encouraging their readers to write to CBS about the show. Donohue says he will seek a meeting with Les Moonves of CBS. He has also sent DVDs of the show to bishops and religious leaders across the nation. “This cannot go unanswered,” he said.

Keith Porteous Wood commented: “The Penn and Teller show pulls no punches. It is famed for its outspokenness when confronting conmen, charlatans and snake oil merchants – why would it be different when it took on the Vatican? Although the Catholic League is trying to undermine the message of the programme by claiming it is factually incorrect, the truth is that the Vatican really is as bad as Penn and Teller paint it. What we now need is the Vatican being held to account by governments and international organisations. I am already pressing for this and encourage others to do the same.”

Watch the show in question:

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Published Tue, 01 Sep 2009