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Jewish Leader Wants Vatican Stand on Gibson Film
by Philip Pullella (Reuters, February 17, 2004)

One of the world's most prominent Jewish leaders urged the Vatican Tuesday to instruct Catholics around the world that Mel Gibson's controversial film on Christ's passion was "Mel's gospel" and not Rome's gospel.

Many Jews have expressed great concern that the film "The Passion of the Christ," based on gospel accounts but also on the visions of a 19th century mystical nun, may inflame anti-Semitism and set back Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

In an interview with Reuters Television after he met Vatican officials, Abraham Foxman, U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League, an independent Jewish pressure group, said the film portrayed Jews as bloodthirsty and vengeful.

He also challenged Gibson to add a post-script to the film and tell audiences it should not be seen as anti-Jewish.

"It's Mel Gibson's version of the gospel, it's Mel's gospel. He's entitled but he's promoting it as the gospel truth," Foxman said in the interview in the shadow of Rome's synagogue, just across the Tiber River from the Vatican.

"He's promoting it as biblical, historical truth and I believe the Church has a responsibility to its teachings, its interpretation, and this is at variance with what the Church is all about."

Foxman, who met several Vatican officials, urged them to instruct bishops around the world to issue statements locally telling their faithful that the film is an artistic work and not a pure portrayal of gospel accounts.

"That would be an important message to vaccinate against what I believe may be the result of this film. This film shows the Jews as bloodthirsty throughout, vengeful, angry and the Romans (as people) who really don't want to do it (kill Christ)," he said.

BETRAYAL

Foxman said the violent film, which depicts the last 12 hours in Christ's life, betrayed a landmark Second Vatican Council statement in 1965 which repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for his death.

"It is the old, medieval, classical interpretation of deicide which blames the Jews and it will be seen by millions of viewers," he said. The film opens in the United States on February 25, Ash Wednesday.

"I would hope that the Vatican and the Catholic Church would stand up to defend its teachings because in fact what the film is an interpretation that challenges what the Church has been teaching for the past 40 years," he said.

"If the Church reminds those viewers of its interpretation of history, its interpretation of the Gospel, its understanding of Biblical history...it will act in a large measure to inoculate against the possibility of anti-Semitism."

Gibson, a member of a group of traditionalist Catholics who do not accept some of the reforms decided by the 1962-1965 Council, has said neither he nor the film are anti-Semitic.

Foxman challenged Gibson to appear in an on-screen post-script to tell viewers not to blame Jews or else his "passion of love would turn into a passion of hate."

Earlier this year the Vatican became embroiled in a controversy over conflicting reports about whether Pope John Paul had endorsed the accuracy of the film. The Vatican later said the pope had not made any public judgment.