RTÉ apologises for ‘blasphemous’ sketch after 1,100 complaints

Broadcaster acknowledges offence caused by satirical clip accusing God of rape

State broadcaster RTÉ apologised on Saturday after receiving about 1,100 complaints over a "blasphemous" sketch that ran as part of the station's New Year's Eve countdown show.

The broadcaster said it acknowledged that viewers were offended by the clip, which faced criticism from Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, who said it was "deeply offensive and blasphemous".

The programme, broadcast on RTÉ One on Thursday, featured a sketch by satirical group Waterford Whispers News.

In it, a mocked-up news report featuring former RTÉ news presenter Aengus Mac Grianna claimed that God had been arrested over "sexual harassment scandals".


In a statement, a spokesman for the broadcaster said: “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 formal complaints received by RTÉ are being entered into our complaints system and will be responded to in accordance with the relevant statutory process.”

Viewer discretion

A warning advising “viewer discretion” has been added to the sketch on the RTÉ Player. It appears at the top of the programme and after advertisements. There is currently no plan to remove the segment of the show from the online player, but feedback and complaints will be reviewed by the national broadcaster during the week, according to a RTÉ spokesman.

Around 600 complaints had been received about the sketch by midday on Saturday. This had jumped to 1,100 by 5pm, the spokesman said.

The RTÉ spokesman said there has not yet been direct contact between the broadcaster and the archbishop.

Archbishop Martin denounced the sketch in a statement on Twitter on Friday.

He described the sketch as “deeply offensive”, “outrageous” and “insulting to all Catholics and Christians”.

He wrote: “I am shocked that producer/editor of ‘NYE Countdown Show’ RTÉ RTÉOne didn’t realise how deeply offensive was a mocking ‘news report’ accusing God of rape & reporting his imprisonment. This outrageous clip should be removed immediately & denounced by all people of goodwill.

"To broadcast such a deeply offensive and blasphemous clip about God & Our Blessed Mother Mary during the Christmas season on 'NYE Countdown Show' on RTE, RTEOne & on Eve of the Solemn Feast of Mary, Mother of God is insulting to all Catholics and Christians."

‘Deeply offensive’ portrayal

The archbishop tagged the RTÉ director general Dee Forbes in his tweets.

In the 23-second sketch, Mr Mac Grianna reads a mocked-up news story in which God has been arrested over “ongoing sexual harassment scandals”.

He said: “The five-billion-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.”

A man dressed as God is seen being led away by a garda, and is heard shouting: “It was 2,000 years ago.”

Responding to RTÉ’s sketch, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said: “The ACP, on behalf of its member and Christians of all denominations, would like to express dismay at the decision of RTÉ to televise a very offensive portrayal of the God whom Christians worship.

“The portrayal of God as a rapist is deeply offensive. In light of such provocative insensitivity, the ACP would like RTÉ to commit to a review of their polices and approaches to reporting on the Christian faith, and to make the results and relevant recommendations open to public review.”

Chairman of Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri tweeted on Friday that the sketch “not only offended religious people in Ireland but also made comedy out of the very serious issue of sexual abuse. I know #RTE is better than this. Sexual abuse isn’t a topic for comedy at religious people’s expense”

However, Atheist Ireland, said criticism or mockery of religious ideas is “just as acceptable as criticism or mockery of secular ideas”.

In a statement, the organisation asked: “Is Archbishop Martin aware that the people of Ireland recently voted overwhelmingly to remove the offence of blasphemy?”

The organisation claimed the sketch was a “relatively tame comedic mockery of what many people of goodwill believe to be an immoral story in the Christian Bible, in which the creator of the universe impregnates a child who would by today’s standards be considered incapable of giving informed consent.” It said the clip did not advocate hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. – Additional reporting: PA

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter