Trey Parker and Matt Stone have confirmed they are to leave South Park - the controversial cartoon series they created, write and star in - after objecting to the "gratuitously sick, twisted" way a recent episode depicted the Pope and Roman Catholicism.
"Although we have never been ones to shy away from ridiculing organised religion, we - myself and Matt - feel we perhaps overstepped the boundaries of acceptibilty with this one, and have therefore decided to leave the show in active protest", Parker said.
The series tells the story of four boys in a dysfunctional Colorado town and regularly deals with sensitive subjects and sends up famous figures.
The episode in question (entitled "Pope Cartmanicus The First") features the Pontiff adopt one of the gang, Eric, bring him to Rome, and groom him into becoming his heir apparent. The episode portrays the Pope as a serial rapist, paedophile and compulsive drug user. One scene shows the Pope attending a Vatican after-mass party, snorting cocaine with other Archbishops whilst chanting "Body of Christ... (snorts cocaine)... Amen baby".
Another scene shows Eric farting on a statue of the Virgin Mary in St. Peter's whilst angrily shouting, "See how you like that Virgin Mary". Eric then appears to perform cunnilingus on the inanimate statue. This scene in particular has outraged several Catholics.
"I feel we went to far with this one", co-creator, Matt Stone said, adding, "we regret and condemn our needlessly obscene portrayal of the holy father who of course we have the utmost respect for. It was truly, truly unnecessary. We apologise sincerely to any Catholics who may have taken offense from certain scenes contained in this episode. Either way, both Trey and I now see it as our duty to cease any further involvement with the show".
Terry Fridge, a spokesperson for Comedy Central, the show's producers, has said Network heads are unsure at this moment about South Park's future without the presence of its creators and driving forces.
Parker and Stone have worked on the series since it started its run back in 1997, and are thought to have appeared in every episode.
Fridge said, "Trey and Matt feel very strongly about the insensitive and inflammatory nature of this particular episode and we respect and honour their decision to step down".
Fridge added, "We can say now however that it will be difficult for the show to continue as, apart from being sole writers and directors, the guys also provided about 95% of the voices. Without that kind of talent it remains to be seen how the show will survive... in fact it may not survive at all".
The network say they have been toying with the idea of splicing together dialogue and footage from previous episodes to create "seemingly all-new" ones.
Fridge said, "One of the executive producers, Steve, whose a pretty funny guy - not as funny as Trey and Matt, mind- but still pretty funny - said we could possibly combine the Mr. Jefferson episode with the Hippies one and maybe the Mr. Garrison sex change one and it might, just might come out seeming like a whole new episode. I don't know what Trey or Matt might think but, then again, I suppose it's not really up to them now".
Fridge added, "plus I can do a cracking impression of Kenny - (bad impression) "Hey look at me I'm dead, I'm Kenny and somebody killllllled me".
Fridge's impersonation was met with an eerie, uncomfortable silence by all those present.
As for Parker and Stone, they say they have no "immediate plans" but admit that recent experiences have thought them a valuable lesson and lent them a "new perspective on life".
Parker said, "You know this Pope episode has got me to thinking. Maybe we are too offensive. Maybe we do go too far sometimes. Maybe we should be nicer to people. What's the point in ruthlessly sending up public figures? Hostility seldom achieves anything".
Stone added, "What we are looking for now in life is something that carries a little more depth of understanding than simple animated satire. Something more grounded in spirtuality yet retaining rationality at the same time... a sort of applied religious philosophy.... that's really what we're looking for".