Pope has not endorsed Gibson's film

Pope Has Not Endorsed Gibson's Film
By Frank Bruni
New York Times
January 26, 2004, 9:19AM
Reposted at HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com
Section: Movie News & Features

ROME -- Pope John Paul II's secretary denied widespread news reports that the pope offered a personal endorsement of Mel Gibson's unreleased movie The Passion of The Christ, the Catholic News Service said in an article Monday.

Cindy Wooden, a Vatican correspondent for the Catholic News Service, wrote that Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz told her that while the pope had seen Gibson's movie, "the Holy Father told no one his opinion of the film."

Dziwisz's statement contradicted reports that the pope, after watching the movie in his apartment in Vatican City, reacted to the depiction of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus by saying, "It is as it was."

Some Jewish and Christian leaders, along with other critics, have expressed worries that the movie could rekindle old beliefs and assertions that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion. Gibson and his associates have said that was neither their intent nor the movie's message.

But they have been selective in choosing audiences for advance screenings of the movie. One example was a visit that Steve McEveety, one of the movie's producers, made to Rome in early December.

McEveety scheduled a series of screenings in Rome for Vatican officials and prominent Roman Catholics close to the Vatican. Those viewers were said to have emerged from the screenings praising the movie, which became a hot topic of conversation in a world as removed from Hollywood as any other.

McEveety also succeeded in getting a copy of the movie to the pope, who watched it with Dziwisz.

Shortly thereafter, the conservative writer Peggy Noonan, in a column for the Web site of The Wall Street Journal, quoted McEveety as saying that the pope had declared that the movie depicted Jesus' death "as it was." Subsequent news reports, including one in The New York Times, quoted unnamed Vatican officials confirming that remark. The Vatican press office declined repeatedly to release an official comment about the pope's opinion of the film.

A telephone message left Monday at Gibson's film company, Icon Productions, was not immediately returned.

One Roman Catholic official close to the Vatican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he had reason to believe that the pope did make the remark about the film.

"But I think there's some bad feeling at the Vatican that the comment was used the way it was," the official added. "It's all a little soap-operatic."

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