MANILA, April 13, 2011 (AFP) – US fast-food chain McDonald’s said Wednesday it had scrapped a television commercial in the devoutly Catholic Philippines after facing a barrage of criticism from church leaders.

“We recognize and respect the stand of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and have stopped airing the said commercial across all television stations,” McDonald’s said in a statement.

In the commercial, a girl who looks to be only five or six years old asks a boy of the same age if she can be his girlfriend. The boy curtly rejects her, complaining that girlfriends are too demanding.

But after the girl says all she wants are some french fries from McDonald’s, the boy’s face lights up and the commercial finishes with the pair walking side by side, almost holding hands.

Catholic church leaders had called for the commercial to be pulled, complaining it sent the wrong message to children.

Bishop Deogracias Yniguez, a senior member of the Catholic Bishops Conference, said concerns had centred on having very young children doing such an adult-themed commercial.

“We should be very sensitive and recognisant of the culture and the values of our country,” Yniguez told AFP.

About 80 percent of people in the Philippines are Catholic, a legacy of the country’s Spanish colonial past, and the church retains strong influence in society.

Divorce and abortions are illegal in the Philippines, while sales of condoms are restricted.