Are Homer and Bart Simpson really Catholic, as the Vatican’s semi-official daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, proclaimed this month? Or is L’Osservatore simply continuing to be a cause of ridicule to Catholics? The jury’s still out. 

The newspaper makes its provocative claim about the 20-year-old television cartoon based in part on a 2005 episode in which Homer and Bart flirt with Catholicism after meeting a sympathetic priest, voiced by actor Liam Neeson. 

But more generally, it said, “‘The Simpsons’ are among the few TV programs for children in which Christian faith, religion, and questions about God are recurrent themes.” Not to mention that the family “recites prayers before meals and, in their own peculiar way, believes in the life thereafter.” 

“The Simpsons” executive producer Al Jean expressed shock at the appraisal. “We’ve pretty clearly shown that Homer is not Catholic,” he said. “I really don’t think he could go without eating meat on Fridays — for even an hour.” 

The review drew gleeful and wide reporting, from The New York Times to Entertainment Weekly, and a flurry of people on the Internet trying to find the one episode that best refutes the “Vatican” claim of Catholicity. There are plenty. Like the time Homer sold his soul to the devil for a doughnut. Or when he refused to get up Sunday morning to go worship “lousy God.” 

It’s not the first time L’Osservatore has made a controversial foray into pop culture under its new editor. Examples from the past few years include a rehabilitation of John Lennon, characterization of “The Blues Brothers” as a “Catholic movie” and a positive review of a Harry Potter film.