JULY 10, 2012 11:56AM

Outraged Pope Benedict sues "intolerable" satire magazine

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The Pontiff has suffered "injury to his moral rights," Vatican lawyers say 

 Titanic Papst

No sense of humor? Pope Benedict XVI vs. Titanic magazine

PEOPLE HAVE DESCRIBED HIS Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, in many ways over the years, but there’s one thing no one will ever say about him again: That he knows how to take a joke.

But seriously – who can blame him? Today the Pope’s lawyers filed an injunction against the German satire magazine Titanic for the cover of its latest issue, featuring the Pontiff in a most unflattering state. The front cover shows a smiling Benedict dressed in a white cassock with an ugly yellow smear running down from his crotch. Alongside him are written the words “Hallelujah in the Vatican: The leak has been found!, a clear reference to the recent “Vatileaks” scandal. The back cover displays a rear view of the Pope, this time with a brown smear across his buttocks. “Oops, another leak!” it says. As Matthias Kopp of the German Bishop's Conference puts it, "Titanic has gone beyond the boundaries of the tolerable."

So what else is new? “At first we thought {the injunction} was a joke,” chief editor Leo Fischer told journalists via telephone from his office in Frankfurt. Fischer, ever the comedian, says it’s all a misunderstanding, since what the cover really shows is an excited Pope who has just spilled a glass of Fanta onto his lap. Titanic, a hardcore satire sheet somewhat along the lines of Mad Magazine, although much darker and more political, is infamous for its tasteless covers and go-for-the-jugular jokes and caricatures. Since its founding in 1979, the company has defended itself against fifty-five lawsuits by aggrieved celebrities and institutions. Thirty-five issues have been banned outright. Titanic doesn’t call itself “the ultimate satire magazine” for nothing.

To give you an idea of what the Vatican is dealing with, here are a few of Titanic's covers from recent years:

 Angela Merkel

"Merkel undergoing menopause"



"Sex in old age: The two hottest positions! - From the front/from the rear"


Zone Gaby

"Lucky Zone-Gaby (17): My first banana." (The most famous of all Titanic covers, this image of "Zone Gaby" from the ex-Soviet Occupation Zone lampoons naive East Germans experiencing their first encounter with Western products, particularly bananas, in November, 1989) 



"Sarajevo: City without hope" (is this a Freudian slip-up or deadly satire from the time of the Yugoslav civil war?)


 Kirche heute

"The Church today" (takeoff on a magazine of that title). I'm surprised the Pope didn't sue the mazagine over this cruel satire of the Church's pedophile scandal.


 Titanic Hitler

"Does anyone recognize this man? The domestic intelligence service requests your assistance." This spot-on cover from earlier this year, in the style of a standard issue wanted poster, ridicules the German authorities, who failed  miserably to identify, let alone stop, the racist "National Socialist Underground" terror group, which had killed a number of foreign residents over the years. It received a Lear Award for "Cover of the Year" in June. 


Muslim Brothers

"The West is frightened: The Muslim Brothers are coming!" (Published in 2011 during the "Arab Spring") 


Helmut Kohl

"The reunification is invalid: {Chancellor Helmut} Kohl was doped!"


So is Titanic tasteless and "intolerable"? Yes it is. That's the whole point, Jack. 

The injunction bans the magazine from distributing further copies and also from publishing the offensive cover online. Shops can still sell their delivered stocks, however, so if you hurry you might still get a hold of one.

But Titanic wouldn’t be Titanic if it went down without a fight - and without lifeboats. For now, Fischer and Co. have no intention of signing the injunction papers. Editor Fischer has promised to fight the injunction in every court in the country. The last time I checked, they had not altered their homepage. You just can't buy this kind of publicity!

Politicians and celebrities usually know enough to ignore the popular magazine so as to avoid calling attention to it while at the same time earning a devastating reputation as a bad sport. You might think the Pope, who is himself German, after all, might understand this, but I’m not sure how often he makes it to the newsstand. 

Now, the faint-hearted should stop reading here








Below I have posted the two offending images. Yes, I realize I am risking not only papal injunctions but also potentially centuries in Purgatory. But I'm a committed believer in press freedom and transparency, even when it comes to sacred matters. My personal attitude regarding such controversies goes back to a statement frequently attributed to Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

As long as Titanic is holding fast, so will I.



Pope Benedict and Titanic Magazine 


Papst Benedikt auf Titanic 



Titanic Magazin



Welt Online

Spiegel Online 



UPDATE: As of this evening, Titanic has indeed blacked out the offending images on their website, so I'm skating on very thin ice leaving the above images posted. Meanwhile, the magazine is using the more respectful image, depicting the Pope celebrating with Fanta, shown below:


 Papst Fanta

"The Pope in a frenzy of joy!"



UPDATE, August 31, 2012:

Just days before the scheduled court date for the case against Titanic, the Catholic Church suddenly and inexplicably withdrew its lawsuit. According to chief editor Leo Fischer: "First we partied heavily on {Hamburg's main entertainment thoroughfare,} the Reeperbahn, then our memory stopped functioning."


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That's what I'm afraid of ;-)

It's all a bit reminiscent of the "Pussy Riot" affair in Moscow these days, only this time the "Titanic" crew aren't facing seven years in prison, which is the whole difference between Putin's Russia and the EU.

For the record, everyone: I think the magazine cover is totally tasteless, totally disrespectful, totally unnecessary. But it's news, and that's why I posted the story.
What morons. Talk about giving credence to your critics. But satire is only "wrong" when it's misplaced. I'm not seeing that here. The Vatican is acting like a bunch of clowns and are being treated as such.

Of course, the real tragedy here is Con Chapman has one less headline to use now.
[r] whoa!! well, reminiscent of the Danish cartoon backlash without the death threats. thanks, alan, one picture can be worth more than a 1000 rants for sure. was trying to backtrack and catch up with your wonderful commentaries. this, a startling one to start with!

I remember Mad Magazine, it was so appealing to us kids, but its satire was so sophisticated and strong and enlightening!!! one of my brothers introduced it to the family, I was too goody goody to purchase it or seek it out, but grateful I got a taste of it and magnetized by its strong bold voice. a real values education so often, with its shock and awe cartooning and messaging! It grabbed you by the throat from your status quo world and made you recognize and mock, too, so much hypocrisy.

take care. best, libby
@Cheshyre Cat
Precisely. The Vatican is acting so stupidly that they deserve all the satire they can get, IMHO. Here's why:

I don't normally read Titanic myself. Neither do most people: the rag has a circulation of only 100,000 in this country of 82 million. But I heard about the injunction, and even blogged about it. Every other sentient being here has also heard about it, since it's on the front page of pretty much every daily newspaper, and all the major TV networks have brought it up in the news. Since the papers and the TV don't dare show the images in question, I suspect half the country has googled them to see what all the fuss is about.

If Fischer and his team don't do as the Vatican demands, they potentially face a fine of 15,000 Euros ($18,400). Big whoop, considering the millions in free advertising they've just been handed.

Now if the Vatican had ignored the admittedly disgusting images, no one would care because no one would know about it. The Pope walked straight into Titanic's trap, just like many another thin-skinned celebrity.

Really, you can't make this stuff up.
Yes indeed, an injunction beats a "fatwa" any day of the week!
And I had never heard of this magazine or this story. I don't watch the news much. Guess the Vatican is getting a public relations lesson.
Titanic now faces a fine of 250,000 € if they do not accept the injunction. Editor Fischer, himself a Catholic who grew up in the Pope's former parish, promises to challenge the case in every court "all the way to Judgment Day." He also says he wants to "reach out to the Pope" and suggests that the Pontiff stop by his office "for a coffee."

In the meantime, the German Journalist Association is criticizing the Vatican's heavy-handed censorship attempt. And I agree that the Church's reaction is turning a crude satire into a major embarassment.
However, I never understood why the Pope and the Vatican have not been properly investigated regarding the sexual abuse of boys by priests. If this was a big company, and the head was involved in protecting and silencing a pedophile ring, he would have been arrested for conspiracy and complicity. But why was the Pope never investigated the same way. Specially since I think of Europe as not so religious like the U.S. (but if it was in the U.S. i think the civil rights groups will have forced a open investigation and arrests).