Ashley Baxstrom: The Simpsons are now officially a little holier-than-thou.  Last Sunday’s L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, claimed the characters Homer and Bart Simpson for its flock.  The article’s main source, however, has since retreated from the claim (and from the web!  We could only find the Italian version online). “Few people know it, and he does everything to hide it. But it’s true: Homer J. Simpson is Catholic,” author Luca Possati said in the article headlined “Homer and Bart are Catholics.”

The show – which in its 22nd season is the longest running prime-time TV show in the United States – regularly presents humorous or satirical depictions of religion and the afterlife. Possati’s article cited a recent study by the Rev. Francesco Occhetta, a Jesuit priest. Occhetta focused on a 2005 episode, “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star,” in which Bart has to go to Catholic school and converts briefly, followed by his father Homer, who likes the idea of forgiveness via confession. In the end they decide against it, but that didn’t deter the Holy See.

Possati cited the study’s conclusions that “The Simpsons” family prays before dinner, believes in (some version of) the afterlife and is one of the few shows to take Christianity, God and religion in America seriously. “Parents shouldn’t be afraid to let their children watch the adventures of the ‘little guys in yellow,’” he stated.

However, executive producer Al Jean specifically denied the assertion that the Simpson family is Catholic, pointing out that they are regular attendees at the Springfield “Presbylutheran” church. “We’ve shown pretty clearly that Homer is not Catholic,” he said.  Possati admitted in the article that there may not be a greater moral message, but “The Simpsons” opens up questions about the meaning of life, and that in itself, he claims, contributes to “a more humane and perhaps a more Christian world.”

But Occhetta has recently distanced himself from Possati’s assertion. “I wouldn’t say they’re Catholic, I would say they’re people of faith. I would say that the Simpsons are open on the question of God.”

Perhaps Possati’s Christian world will manifest in future episodes – but Homer will probably have to stop sleeping through Sunday sermons first.