In an effort to keep Catholics from having a cow, Fox and the producers of The Simpsons have decided to postpone a religion-skewering episode until after the new pope is installed.
The typically irreverent episode, titled "The Father, Son and Holy Guest," features the voice of Liam Neeson as a priest, who inspires Bart after he gets expelled from Springfield Elementary and lands in a Catholic school. Hijinks ensue.
Fox decided to move the episode back to May 15 after the Apr. 2 death of Pope John Paul II. The network had figured the date would give plenty of time for a new pope to be elected. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI was chosen on Tuesday and will be inaugurated this Sunday.
Fox declined to comment on the episode rescheduling, which was originally reported in Daily Variety.
The Simpsons' papal shuffle is the latest TV land tweak in recent weeks. ABC and producers of Desperate Housewives reportedly edited out a reference to Catholics earlier this month, per a New York Daily News report.
During a funeral for Gabrielle's (Eva Longoria) mother-in-law, Bree (Marcia Cross) remarks, "You have to hand it to the Catholics, they do grief better than anyone." With Pope John Paul II on his deathbed, producers decided to replace "Catholics" and overdub Cross saying "Gabby and Carlos."
"We got a phone call from ABC Friday [Apr. 1] evening asking about the line," executive producer Michael Edelstein told the Daily News. "In light of world events, we felt we should be more sensitive. We were happy to go in and make a last-second fix.
"These were extraordinary circumstances," Edelstein said. "This is about respect for an individual, in respect for a religion."
While Desperate Housewives is a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to generating controversy, The Simpsons has been ruffling religious feathers for years, regularly poking fun at Christians (see Ned Flanders and Reverend Lovejoy), Jews (Krusty), Hindus (Apu) and Buddhists (Lisa converts in one episode and is counseled by Richard Gere). Back in 1992, President Bush I famously told the National Religious Broadcasters, "We need a nation closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons."
In a 1999 episode following the Super Bowl, the Simpson kids were watching television when a commercial came own spoofing a ZZ Top video. A guy pulls up to a gas station, honks his horn and serviced by a trio of three babes, one of which is wearing a Crucifix against her ample bosom. A voice-over says, "The Catholic Church. We've made a few...changes."
Following complaints from Catholics, Fox changed the line in subsequent airings to "The Church..."
In a recent interview with the San Antonio-based Christian Website www.saworship.com, Simpsons animator and designer Lance Wilder, a devout Christian, said, "The Simpsons is not anti-Christian, nor is it Christian."
"It's an animated television comedy that is supposed to entertain you for 30 minutes. It has always been a comedic look into family, school, politics, religion, friendship and the life at large. Our show has been on so long that we continue to cover many topics and changes in the world over the last 15 years."
Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who grew up as a Methodist, defended his hit in a 1999 Mother Jones interview.
"Not only do the Simpsons go to church every Sunday and pray, they actually speak to God from time to time," he said.
"We show him, and God has five fingers. Unlike the Simpsons, who only have four."