By Deborah Gyapong

OTTAWA, Canada (CCN, May 22, 2007) – Two Conservative members of Parliament (MPs) will seek to have Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) answer to a House of Commons committee for a television program the Catholic Civil Rights League has described as blasphemous.

 “At various points in the program, the Communion host is depicted as munchable snack food, possible poker chips and a repository for drops of LSD. Drug-laced hosts are left in the confessional for pick-up,” said a May 15 Catholic Civil Rights League news release about “The Altar Boy Gang,” a CBC television pilot aired May 11.

MPs Brad Trost (Saskatoon-Humboldt) and Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle) have promised to send complaint letters to the CBC’s president and will ask colleagues from all parties to help get CBC officials before the Heritage Committee.

“To depict the communion host, something so sacred, in this fashion is an extreme act of sacrilege,” Scheer, a Catholic, wrote in a May 16 news release. “The holy Eucharist is sacred to millions of Catholics across Canada and around the world,” said Trost, who pointed out this is not the first time the CBC has aired material offensive to Catholics. Comedian Mary Walsh fed a consecrated host to a dog during the program “Our Daily Bread.” “CBC News: Sunday” used to run a feature “Sunday Confessions” where host Evan Solomon would interview guests in a mock confessional.

“Within the past year, the CBC hired an independent Muslim Canadian consultant to ensure that religious sensitivities were respected in its program ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie,’” said Catholic Civil Rights League Executive Director Joanne McGarry, asking if any Catholic previewed the program. “If not, why the double standard?” she asked.

The CBC has no plans to run the series or rebroadcast “The Altar Boy Gang,” made by an independent producer with funding from the Canadian Television Fund (CTF). “We certainly regret if anyone has taken offense at the program,” said CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay in a telephone interview May 22.

“The Altar Boy Gang” is “an absurdist comedy satire,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should conclude from that that we intended any disrespect to the Catholic Church or any other religions.”

Response to the program has been mixed, with much of it coming from news articles about the program rather than the program itself, he said. Some positive reaction came from “people self-identifying as Catholics who thought it was hilarious and hoped we would make a series out of it,” he said.

“It’s not unprecedented for us to put on material that some people would find offensive,” Keay said, noting it is one of the risks of putting out programming. “You shouldn’t take this as a defense of the program,” he said.

CTF communications director MaryBeth McKenzie said the application for CTF funding followed their guidelines. She noted the broadcasters abide by Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics, ensuring programs contain “no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment” based on religion, race, sex and so on.

“It’s the broadcaster that determines what kind of program they want to support and air,” she said in a telephone interview from Toronto May 22. She said the CBC would have been fully aware of what was in the program and approved the script prior to production.

© Canadian Catholic News, May 22, 2007