Catholic League president leads attack on 'Nothing Sacred'

October 02, 1997|By Mark Jurkowitz | Mark Jurkowitz,BOSTON GLOBE

Six and counting. That's the number of companies that will no longer advertise during ABC's new program "Nothing Sacred," as a result of a pressure campaign orchestrated by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. In the bloody arena where religious values clash with entertainment values, the New York-based Catholic League is racking up some impressive victories.

Since July, the Catholic League's media-savvy president William Donohue has been engaged in a jihad against "Nothing Sacred," which airs Thursday nights at 8 p.m. He characterizes the plot -- featuring a young priest at times bedeviled by church dogma -- as "pure political propaganda" that exemplifies Hollywood's anti-religious bias and insults loyal Catholics.

"We get this man," he says of the show's lead character, Father Ray, "who lives like a slob, is not sure he believes in God, and certainly rejects the church's teachings on sexuality."

Five companies -- DuPont, Kmart, Benckiser, Red Lobster, and Ocean Spray -- say they will no longer advertise on the show, citing public complaints. Another company, Weight Watchers International, did not return calls, but has also bowed out according to published reports.

Not every company is comfortable as a pawn in this struggle. Some pointed out they had made "scatterbuys" -- random purchases of advertising time -- that just happened to include "Nothing Sacred." DuPont corporate spokeswoman Cathy Andriadis said the company was not making "a political statement" and claimed the Catholic League "misrepresented" its position.

Anne Marie Riccitelli, ABC's executive director for media relations, said that despite the boycott, "the show has been fully sponsored and we expect it will be fully sponsored throughout its run." An ABC statement says, "it is our hope that through subsequent episodes, [those offended] will come to find that the series reflects positively on the issues of faith, for that is our intention."

Opinion inside the Catholic Church is not monolithic. Donohue's criticism is echoed by C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, whose group is trying to pressure local advertisers and who calls "Nothing Sacred" an "agnostic baby boomer's conception of what a good clergyman can be."

Yet, the Archdiocese of Boston has taken "no formal position on the boycott" according to spokesman John Walsh. Walsh says he was personally "disappointed" by the first show, but "did not regard it as defamation or as anti-Catholic as some recent" entertainment vehicles. And the United States Catholic Conference has been circulating a review from Bishop Robert Lynch, chairman-elect of the Bishops' Communications Committee. While far from unabashedly positive about "Nothing

Sacred," Lynch wrote "I would never accuse ABC, Disney or 20th Century Fox of anti-Catholicism based on the first episode."

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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