Penn and Teller trash Mother Teresa

Posted: Jun 03, 2005 12:00 AM

A year ago, I attended the Viacom shareholders meeting in New York. When an investor questioned the propriety of this media behemoth launching a gay cable television network, Chairman Sumner Redstone virtually leapt at the opportunity to defend Viacom's commitment to tolerance and diversity.
But not for Catholics. Viacom has no problem whatever insulting Catholics.

 The Catholic League's William Donohue is America's leading watchdog of all things anti-Catholic in the media and the culture. In 12 years at the helm he's seen a lot of bashing and trashing and believes there's been nothing as outrageous as the May 23 edition of the professional magician duo Penn and Teller's aptly titled show "B.S." [spelled out] on Viacom's pay-cable channel Showtime.

  While the episode titled "Holier Than Thou" ends with a few smacks at Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, Penn Jillette mostly savaged the world's most beloved woman of the 20th century by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The woman beatified by Pope John Paul II and surely to be declared a saint was known as Mother Teresa. On this Viacom/Showtime program she is called "Mother F---ing Teresa."

 The show features notoriously vicious anti-Catholics like Christopher Hitchens and Aroup Chatterjee. Viewers are told that she intentionally let the poor suffer, providing neither beds nor bathroom facilities. "She had the f---king coin and pissed it away on nunneries," says Penn Jillette.

 Donohue said it did not bother him they called him "Catholic Boy" on the show, and not even when they referred to him with the F word since he could "only see good in her." But when they mocked the Catholic Church's teaching on the meaning of suffering; when the nuns who worked with Mother Teresa in the Missionaries of Charity were referred to with the F-word and the offensive C-word for female genitalia; and when they said of the poor that "They had to suffer so that Mother [F-word] Teresa could be enlightened," he protested. "They are behaved like monsters ... It turned into hate speech."

  This anti-Catholicism is no accident. The Showtime website actually boasts about the aching anti-religious bigotry behind the show. "By their own admission, Penn & Teller have been dying to do a show like this. Confirmed skeptics and pro-science atheists (they call God an 'imaginary friend'), these magicians are big fans of the art of debunking." The Showtime booster copy continues: "As our increasingly anti-intellectual, anti-science culture moves on each day to new crackpot subject matters, Penn & Teller are there to aggressively shoot down whack-jobs and fuzzy thinkers, no matter where they originate."

 Isn't Showtime a piece of work? This junkyard of "edgy" programming was the final resting place of "The Reagans," the canceled CBS TV-movie making up vile charges against a man on his deathbed. It has two regular dramatic series celebrating the gay lifestyle, "Queer as Folk" for the men, and "The L Word" for the women. It recently began airing the original movie "Our Fathers," a movie on the Boston pedophile-priest scandals, which even the Washington Post called "Showtime's Unholy Mess." Four years ago at this time, Showtime was airing the original film "Sister Mary Explains It All," starring Diane Keaton as a vicious nun who ruined the lives of schoolchildren.

 Now it has the two smart-aleck magicians reviling, with F bombs, the holiest women walking the face of the Earth while attacking the entire concept of holiness as a racket for "whack jobs and fuzzy thinkers."

  The Catholic League protested outside this year's shareholders meeting of Viacom in New York, but tight-lipped Showtime could only remark on this inflammatory show by patting itself on the back as a haven for free speech. They claim they're "in the unique position to give artists the creative freedom to express their views," unlike other broadcast and cable networks who avoid "controversial subject matter." Sadly, and predictably, the TV writers who've happened upon the Penn and Teller show haven't exactly criticized their shtick. Associated Press reporter Frazier Moore praised the duo as "sassy secularists in a priesthood of knaves."

  Didn't anyone involved in the making of this trash -- the writers, director, producers and the like -- see the wretched ugliness of the product? What of the Showtime front office -- the programming executives, the public relations/marketing staff? In fact, they all saw it and approved it. What of the Viacom leadership, the board of directors? One presumes they didn't see it, so busy are they giving speeches about corporate commitments to diversity and tolerance.