MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- A cartoon that depicts the pope as a man with an emotional age of 7 could be on British television by next year.

``Popeman'' is a Vatican-set cartoon that chronicles the adventures of a retarded pontiff who plays practical jokes and terrorizes the Vatican guards.

One episode involves the discovery of an errant slip from the Bible that reads: ``Page 9: `God does exist' should read `God does not exist.''' Another deals with a refrigerator from Chernobyl, Ukraine. It creates enough snow to build a ski slope in a Vatican crypt but its radioactivity brings hundreds of dead popes back to life.

The makers insist that the pope character is not based on Pope John Paul II but admit the cartoon attacks the church.

Phil Ox, the project's French director, said: ``I do not think the church has any problem irritating me sometimes. I support gay rights and believe abortion is a solution sometimes. We do not want to question the fact that people believe in God and just want to question the establishment of the church.''

SKY TV and the BBC are believed to be considering showing the cartoon. A top British comedy writing team, Jane Bussman and David Quantick, are developing half-hour episodes. Their previous credits include Channel Four's controversial shows ``So Graham Norton'' and ``Smack the Pony.''

``Popeman'' is the brainchild of Channel X, the independent production company founded by TV presenter Jonathan Ross, and a French TV company, Moi J'aime La Television. The French government has provided 800,000 pounds (US$1.3 million) of the total 5 million pound (US$7.5 million) production costs.

In London, Andres Lukomski, 43, an Argentine export consultant, and his Polish wife, Margarita, are appealing to British Catholics to start a letter-writing campaign.

``I was shocked to read about it,'' Lukomski said. ``There seems to be no limit on attacks against the church and the pope. This is utter hypocrisy. The producers would not dare to offend members of another religion, like our Muslim brothers who seem to have less patience. They might worry about a `fatwa' if Muslims got offended.

``But Catholics are a soft target. It is an insult to the 9 percent Catholic population of this country and seems bad taste to do this while the pope is suffering from Parkinson's disease.''

He also criticized the episode about Chernobyl: ``It is in very poor taste, particularly since children are still dying from the effects of the disaster.

``It is as bad as making a joke about Auschwitz or the Holocaust.''

Father Kit Cunningham of St. Etheldreda's Church, London, condemned the proposed program as ``horrendous,'' saying it was the creation of a ``pathetic mind.''

``I believe this show will disgust most people, even those who are not Catholics,'' he said. ``I will pray for the poor morons who produced it.''

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