Ireland’s state broadcaster, RTÉ, has apologised after an outcry over a television comedy sketch that depicted God as a rapist.
A countdown show on New Year’s Eve included a mock news report about God being the latest prominent figure implicated in a sexual harassment scandal.
“The 5bn-year-old stood accused of forcing himself on a young Middle Eastern migrant and allegedly impregnating her against her will, before being sentenced to two years in prison, with the last 24 months suspended,” said the newsreader. “Following the news, movie producer Harvey Weinstein requested a retrial in Ireland.”
The 23-second segment by Waterford Whispers News, a satirical news website, prompted more than 1,000 complaints to RTÉ and condemnation by Ireland’s Catholic primate archbishop, Eamon Martin.
“This outrageous clip should be removed immediately & denounced by all people of goodwill,” he tweeted. “To broadcast such a deeply offensive and blasphemous clip about God and Our Blessed Mother Mary during the Christmas season … is insulting to all Catholics and Christians.”
In a statement, RTÉ apologised and said it would respond to complaints according to statutory rules. It did not promise to remove the sketch from the RTÉ Player.
“RTÉ recognises that matters which can cause offence naturally differ from person to person, within comedy and satire in particular. Having reviewed the feedback and complaints received up to this point, RTÉ wishes to apologise to those who were offended by the segment.”
The group Atheist Ireland defended the broadcaster’s right to transmit material deemed offensive and cited a 2018 referendum that removed a prohibition on blasphemy from the constitution.
The last prosecution for blasphemy in Ireland was in 1855 when a priest who accidentally burned a Bible was prosecuted and later acquitted. In 2015 police investigated comments made by Stephen Fry on television in which the comedian described God as “capricious”, “mean-minded”, and an “utter maniac”. Gardaí dropped the investigation after deciding insufficient numbers of people had been outraged.
Once a deeply conservative society in thrall to the Catholic church, Ireland has in recent years turned secular and liberal with the legalisation of gay marriage and abortion in popular votes, and the ascent of a gay taoiseach.