Stop the presses! A Catholic Homer

When it comes to religion, Ned Flanders generally steals all the thunder for references to faith and The Simpsons. L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's daily newspaper, shook things up for a day, offering some quality fodder for religion blogs by declaring Homer Simpson as Catholic. We could probably create a context out of this, but check out some of the headlines:

Vatican Claims Homer Is Catholic; Saints Go Begging (NPR)

D'oh! Vatican declares Bart and Homer Simpson Catholic (CNN)

IS THE DOPE CATHOLIC? The Vatican blesses Homer Simpson (despite what the show says) (Washington Post)

But never fear. There were some publications that actually took the news seriously. Here's the basic report from Reuters.

"Few people know it, and he does everything to hide it. But it's true: Homer J. Simpson is Catholic", the Osservatore Romano newspaper said in an article on Sunday headlined "Homer and Bart are Catholics."

The newspaper cited a study by a Jesuit priest of a 2005 episode of the show called "The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star". That study concludes that "The Simpsons" is "among the few TV programs for kids in which Christian faith, religion and questions about God are recurrent themes."

Entertainment Weekly went so far as to get reaction from a Simpsons producer.

Simpsons HQ is flattered and amused by the attention from the Vatican. "My first reaction is shock and awe," exec producer Al Jean tells, "and I guess it makes up for me not going to church for 20 years." That said, Jean is quick to throw not-so-holy water on the Homer-is-Catholic assertion, pointing out that the family attends the First Church of Springfield, which is decidedly Presbylutheran. "We've pretty clearly shown that Homer is not Catholic," he says. "I really don't think he could go without eating meat on Fridays--for even an hour."

The Telegraph's piece actually offers some context from the past.

It is not the first time that the Vatican newspaper has praised The Simpsons. Last December, as the television series celebrated its 20th anniversary, the paper said that "the relationship between man and God" is one of its most important themes and that it often mirrored the "religious and spiritual confusion of our times".

Once a staid and sober paper of record, L'Osservatore Romano has ventured into popular culture in the last three years under a new editor, commenting on everything from The Beatles and The Blues Brothers to the blockbuster film Avatar and the Harry Potter books and films.

It's a fun, light-hearted story that offers the chance to highlight something larger going on at the newspaper and perhaps in the culture there. Besides, it appears that the editors at the Vatican newspaper has something in common with Rowan Williams.

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