CONTROVERSY surrounding the staging of Jerry Springer - The Opera in Cardiff has intensified after the Archbishop of Wales and the Assembly Culture Minister became embroiled in the row.
The award-winning show which plays at the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) next month has gained notoriety among some Christian groups who claim its content is offensive and blasphemous.
Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan has become the latest voice to speak out against the production - which features a nappy-wearing Jesus declaring he is "a little bit gay" and describing Mary as being "raped by an angel, raped by God" - saying it was time to "call a halt" on such "gratuitously offensive" material.
Meanwhile Assembly Culture Minister Alun Pugh revealed he had been deluged with letters on the subject but made it clear he would not intervene in an "artistic decision" made by the Assembly- funded centre.
Speaking at the weekend the archbishop, Dr Barry Morgan, said, "I'm deeply disappointed. On the one hand, I can see that we need freedom for the arts to express what they want to express.
"On the other hand, I think they've crossed a line here, because what they say about Jesus in this opera is likely to cause scandal and they'd never get away with saying the same things about the prophet Muhammad."
Dr Morgan, who has written to the trustees of the WMC expressing his views on the opera, added, "I think what's important is to make our feelings known beforehand and we've done that.
"What they say about Jesus here is blasphemous and gratuitously offensive and I think when an opera does that, then it's time to call a halt. Why should Christianity endure this kind of offensive blasphemous treatment?"
The musical features Jesus, Mary and God as guests on Jerry Springer's fiery talk show and is peppered with more than 300 swearwords.
It was seen by 425,000 during its West End run and by 2.4m people when it was screened by the BBC last year.
But it has been dogged by controversy and protests, with the TV broadcast attracting a record 63,000 complaints while the Western Mail has been inundated with letters on the issue ever since the Cardiff-leg of the 21-venue tour was announced.
The WMC has insisted it is correct to stage art that challenges its audience. A spokeswoman for the centre said it had met with church leaders and would be allowing Christian literature to be distributed in the foyer over the show's six-day run.
Alun Pugh, Assembly Culture Minister said, "I know very many people will not like this show at all, and some will genuinely be offended by it. I have received hundreds of letters about this asking me to intervene as the WMC receives substantial funding directly from the Assembly's Culture budget.
"I have made it clear that I have never intervened in artistic decisions made by arts organisations in the past and I will not do so in the future."
Elsewhere the archbishop's criticisms were yesterday condemned as "repressive and dangerous" by the National Secular Society.
Terry Sanderson, vice president of the society said, "The archbishop's comments are deeply misguided. Calling for censorship of a theatrical performance on the grounds that it is 'blasphemous' is repressive and risks setting back free speech to medieval times."