Showtime to Catholics: Here's an Evil, Degenerate Pope. Happy Easter.

Never let it be said that Showtime ignores Christianity. In fact, the network that aired "The Tudors" is getting into the spirit of Lent and gleefully calling to mind some of the Catholic Church's centuries-old sins.

"The Borgias" is Showtime's new 10-part miniseries about the infamous 15thCentury Italian family of that name, and about a dark period in the history of the Church. Rodrigo Borgia, who as a cardinal fathered children with several mistresses, bought the papacy, becoming Pope Alexander VI in 1492, and misused his office in a variety of distinctly unholy ways. Rodrigo, his son Cesare and daughter Lucrezia made many powerful enemies and were accused of many crimes, including incest, adultery, rape, theft, bribery and murder. Much of it was slander and hearsay, but Showtime and director Neil Jordan didn't scruple to sort out fact from legend.

In fact, Showtime wants the public to know it managed to work as many sins as it could into the first season. A magazine ad for the series puts actor Jeremy Irons' Rodrigo back-to-back with a half-naked woman as his hand touches the ornate cross around his neck and an architectural element creates a mock halo behind his head. The ad reads, "Sex. Power. Murder. Amen." It also adds the tag line: "The Original Crime Family" - fitting, since author Mario Puzo is said to have modeled"'The Godfather" after the Borgias.

"That he [Rodrigo] was a disgrace to the papacy is not in question; rather, the question is why Showtime decided it was worth spending $45 million to produce it," wrote William Donohue, president of the Catholic League.

The answer is simple: "The Tudors," Showtime's other sexed-up period drama, is about to end. The Borgias' story is ready-made to replace it. (That it's a thumb in the eye to the Church during holy season doesn't hurt.) Jordan told Reuters, "They were really one of the most notorious families to have lived. The entire family were pretty hot and lascivious. I didn't have to manipulate events really to make it dramatically engaging or to make them salacious or interesting as people."

Yet Irons told Reuters the Borgias of legend are based on "salacious gossip" and his and Jordan's portrayal "tried to find the truth behind all this history and gossip." And heaven knows Irons wouldn't want to be involved in anything "salacious."

"I know there are some series where there is a bit of history and a bit of f***ing and a bit of history and a bit of f***ing," Irons charmingly told New York Magazine. "I think [Showtime] would have liked to have made it even more about that, but I wouldn't want to be involved in something that's just as obviously …"

Irons told The New York Times, "I hope the Vatican doesn't go down the obvious path of creating a great controversy over this, though I'm sure Showtime would love that." Contrast that with Bill Donohue's ending thought for his column on the Borgias: "It might be worth asking Showtime whether it plans to run a series on Muhammad during Ramadan that features his marriage to a 9-year-old girl, Aisha. Muhammad at the time was in his fifties."

Irons tried to portray the character of Rodrigo as "a man of many different colors and many different behaviors," as he told The New York Times. "I never judge. That's not my job."

But it seems to be Jordan's job. As the Times' Charles McGrath wrote, "Oddly, the villain of 'The Borgias' is Rodrigo's rival, della Rovere (played by Colm Feore), a model of probity and holiness."

Probity and holiness? Revolting.

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture