Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 23, 2004
Passion provokes passion
Gibson's movie still draws heat as opening near
From WCR News Services
After months of controversy over how it depicts Jews, Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, is set to open in theatres across Canada and the United States on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25.
Gibson himself went on ABC's Primetime Feb. 16 to say the point of The Passion of the Christ is not to blame Jews for the death of Jesus.
"It's not about pointing the fingers. It's not about playing the blame game," Gibson told interviewer Diane Sawyer. "It's about faith, hope, love and forgiveness."
When Sawyer asked him who killed Christ, Gibson replied: "The big answer is, we all did. I'll be first in the culpability stakes."
Gibson said that to be anti-Semitic "goes against the tenets of my faith, to be racist in any form. To be anti-Semitic is a sin."
Abraham Foxman, U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, also interviewed on the program, said he did not believe either Gibson or his film were anti-Semitic, but added, "this movie has the potential to fuel anti-Semitism, to reinforce it."
Foxman then went to Rome and asked for a Vatican statement that the film does not reflect Catholic belief about the role of the Jews in the death of Jesus.
"He is marketing this film as the Gospel truth, the historic truth in a way contrary to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and Church guidelines on the presentation of the Passion," Foxman said.
Vatican II said that Jesus' passion "cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today."
"For almost 2,000 years," Foxman said, "four words - 'The Jews killed Christ' - were the rationale for anti-Semitism."
Foxman said he appreciated the fact that many Vatican officials and other Christian leaders felt the film cast the blame for Christ's death on all human beings and on their sins.
But many Jews experience the film differently, he said.
Foxman met Feb. 16 with Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Foley told CNS he said to Foxman, "I saw no anti-Semitism in the film."
Watching the film, Foley said, "I found myself meditating deeply on the sinfulness of each one of us."
He said he hoped people would be aware of the strong teaching of the Catholic Church that anti-Semitism is a sin and that not all the Jews of Christ's time or all Jews of all time were responsible for his death.
Foxman said the debate in the United States about possible anti-Semitism in the film is causing people to read and talk about the issue.
While the U.S. dialogue is strong, he said, "I worry about the rest of the world, and the rest of the world looks to Rome" for guidance, which is why he asked for a Vatican statement.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Jewish Congress has asked Canada's churches not to allow Gibson's film to be a source of tension.
In a statement released Feb. 16, the CJC acknowledged gains made in Christian-Jewish relations in Canada but says that anti-Semitism "is dangerously on the rise throughout the world."
It asks Canadian Church leaders to take leadership in "sensitizing their fellow Christians in those countries where Christian-Jewish relations are less advanced, on the importance of acceptance, respect and peaceful co-existence."
Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais says he was "touched profoundly" by The Passion of the Christ. But he says young people should not see it and that adolescents should receive guidance both before and after viewing it.
Gervais said in a letter to the faithful of his archdiocese Feb. 12 that he and a few hundred others involved in the ministry attended a pre-release screening of the movie in early January.
The film has some outstanding qualities and the depiction of Mary is "one of the extraordinary features," he said. "She is very present throughout the film."
However, Gervais said, "Although faithful to the Scriptures, the producers and writers chose to add certain elements and to embellish others. This is particularly true of those instances where the Gospels are almost silent or are very discreet as is the case with the scourging."
Calgary Bishop Fred Henry told The Catholic Register of Toronto that Gibson's film is not guilty of anti-Semitism.
Henry's viewing of the movie left him taken aback by its dramatic power. "It is a great artistic work, maybe the best religious movie ever made," he said. "Powerful, engaging, even disconcerting, as at times too realistic and very violent. The scourging scene is overdone and horrific.
"However, through the use and insertion of flashback the Passion is naturally and creatively presented as a seamless whole with Jesus' public ministry."
In the ABC interview, Gibson acknowledged that The Passion of the Christ was "very violent, and if you don't like it, don't go, you know? That's it. If you want to leave halfway through, go ahead. You know, there's nothing that says you have to stay there."
The Motion Picture Association of America has given the film an R rating for its sequences of graphic violence. The rating means "restricted, under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian."
Gibson added he wanted the violence to be "shocking. And I also wanted it to be extreme. I wanted it to push the viewer over the edge. And it does that.
"I think it pushes one over the edge . . . so that they see the enormity, the enormity of that sacrifice; to see that someone could endure that and still come back with love and forgiveness, even through extreme pain and suffering and ridicule."
In an earlier interview on the EWTN cable channel, Gibson criticized past filmed treatments of Jesus' death and resurrection as "very hokey" with "stilted acting." "They bore the hell out of me," he said.
Of his own movie, Gibson advised, "I don't think anybody under the age of 12 should go see it."
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