Italian comedians imitate Pope Benedict XVI's German-accented Italian, poke fun at his secretary and even have the pontiff shooting pigeons in St. Peter's Square.
The pope and the Vatican have long been cherished targets in a country where satirists hold little sacred, but Italy's Roman Catholic bishops and others now complain that the current crop of comedians is going too far.
"You can't joke about the Vatican," was the banner headline on Wednesday in the left-wing daily L'Unita, which denounced a "crusade against satire" by the Catholic media and conservative politicians.
"This is Catholic fundamentalism, a faithful mirror of certain Islamic fundamentalists who don't want cartoons about Allah," the paper wrote in an editorial, drawing comparisons to the uproar in the Muslim world by cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in Danish and other European newspapers earlier this year.
The popular comedian Fiorello imitates the pope's secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, representing him as a hip, sporty and very vain prelate. The comedian uses him to talk about the pope.
"He's smoking like a Turk -- three packs a day -- to prepare for his upcoming trip to Turkey," he had the secretary saying recently on his radio show, using the Italian expression for a chainsmoker.
The Maurizio Crozza satire on TV is stronger, with a hysterical pope shooting pigeons on his ledge over St. Peter's Square because they disturb "people who have work to do" or throwing burning candies to the "dear children" in the square.
Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, said that Fiorello was "bravissimo, but even he has his off moments," while it termed Crozza's humor as "failed satire which is not without cowardice."
Many commentators, both left and right, partially backed the criticism of the satire saying that Italian comedians attacking the church were picking on an easy target.
The moderate daily newspaper Corriere della Sera said: "Between an Islamic religion that doesn't accept even a cartoon and a Catholic one forced to feed the tired fantasies of humor there should be a middle way."
Italian newspapers carried comments by the pope's secretary dismissing the satire as "unacceptable" and insisting that Benedict never watched or listened to the programs.