//Furious Catholics look at legal action

Furious Catholics look at legal action

Mar 3, 2006

No one has been prosecuted for blasphemy in New Zealand for more that 80 years and even that failed.

But that isn’t stopping a group of Catholics from seeking to lay charges of blasphemous libel over a recent South Park episode.

Father Meuli, a priest for 50 years, is backing fellow Catholics who claim South Park denigrated their religious belief.

"To maintain as it were a visibly, a certain standard in society, and let it be known far and wide that these standards must not be contravened," says Meuli.

The controversial episode which screened last week has resulted in 10 formal complaints to the broadcaster CanWest.

But Catholic Action wants to go further and is seeking consent from the Solicitor General to take legal action under an old and rarely used section of the Crimes Act.

The group’s lawyer, Greg King, claims it’s about defining where freedom of expression stops and insult starts.

Catholics went down this road before when they unsuccessfully tried to stop the highly controversial virgin in a condom exhibition at Te Papa in 1998.

Legal experts say they may fail again.

Professor Warren Brookbanks believes the Solicitor General will have to look how offensive it is and how many people have been offended.

"Does this reflect a general consensus in the community and has some  important public value been seriously eroded or would it have been seriously eroded by the publication of these cartoons," says Brookbanks.

Mueli says he hates to see society "falling to pieces as it appears to be doing".

CanWest is refusing to comment on the latest development until it has a legal ruling and the Solicitor General’s office wouldn’t be drawn on how long that is likely to take.