updated 2/20/2009 11:18:49 AM ET 2009-02-20T16:18:49

The Vatican said Friday it has formally complained to the Israeli government about a private Israeli TV show that ridiculed and blasphemed Jesus and Mary.

In the program, the host farcically denied Christian traditions — that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus walked on water — saying he would do so as a "lesson" to Christians who deny the Holocaust.

It was a reference to the Vatican's recent lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who denied 6 million Jews were killed during World War II. The rehabilitation sparked outrage among Jews.

A statement from the Vatican press office said its representative in Israel complained to the government about the show, which was broadcast recently on private Channel 10, one of Israel's three main TV stations.

The statement said the government quickly assured the Holy See that it would intervene to interrupt the transmission and get the broadcaster to publicly apologize. But it wasn't immediately clear how the government could do so since Channel 10 is a private station and is not subject to government censorship, except in matters of security.

Calls to Channel 10 seeking comment weren't successful Friday. The Israeli foreign ministry had no comment.

The Vatican said that in the clip, Mary and Joseph were "ridiculed with blasphemous words and images" that amounted to a "vulgar and offensive act of intolerance toward the religious sentiments of the believers in Christ."

In the show, hosted by well-known Israeli comedian Lior Shlein, Mary is said to have become pregnant at 15, thanks to a schoolmate. It said Jesus could never have walked on water because "he was so fat he was ashamed to leave the house, let alone go to the Sea of Galilee with a bathing suit."

Bishop apologizes but refuses to recant
The clip was a sarcastic response to the Vatican's rehabilitation of Bishop Richard Williamson, who said in an interview broadcast on Swedish state TV that no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust and that only 200,000 or 300,000 Jews were killed.

The Vatican's rehabilitation of Williamson sparked outrage that only abated after Pope Benedict XVI met with Jewish leaders at the Vatican last week. During his audience, the German-born pope issued a strong denunciation of anti-Semitism and said it was unacceptable for anyone — particularly a clergyman — to deny or minimize the Holocaust.

The Vatican has demanded that Williamson, a member of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, recant before he can be admitted as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. On Thursday, the government of Argentina, where Williamson had been living, ordered him expelled within 10 days. It cited an immigration problem but also said his comments about the Holocaust had profoundly insulted Argentina, Jews and all of humanity.

The British-born Williamson had already been removed as director of the society's La Reja seminary. He has apologized for causing distress to the pope but has not recanted. He has said he would only correct himself if he is satisfied after a review of the evidence, but has said that would take time.

More on Vatican | Holocaust

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