Brazil Religious Leaders Call 'Christ' Movie Violent

Jewish and Catholic leaders criticized Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of Christ" for its violence on Wednesday after a special showing in Brazil, the world's biggest Roman Catholic country.

But while a leading Brazilian rabbi said he feared the film would fan ill-feeling toward Jews, a Catholic bishop said he did not find it anti-Semitic.

The movie depicting Jesus' final 12 hours has provoked fierce debate worldwide, with critics accusing it of being anti-Semitic because they see it as blaming the Jews for his betrayal and crucifixion.

It is due to open in cinemas in Brazil, home to 125 million Roman Catholics, next week but was shown on Tuesday night to about 40 Catholic priests attending a conference in the capital, Brasilia.

They invited Rabbi Henry Sobel, president of the Paulista Israelite Congress in Sao Paulo, to watch it with them.

The audience sat in silence when it ended, Sobel said, though he did not know whether that was because they were shocked or moved.

"It is a violent spectacle without a historical basis," he said in an interview. "What got me most was the Jews being portrayed as bloodthirsty and vindictive. The virtues of love and passion are only given to the Romans."

"We don't have organized or institutionalized anti-Semitism in Brazil. But we have Brazilians with a latent anti-Semitism," he said.

"I'm worried about Europe and other countries, like Argentina, where anti-Semitism is resurging."

The priests had said they would not give their views on the film until Friday. But a senior bishop told the leading newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo the movie was "shocking and terribly cruel."

Bishop Geraldo Majella Agnelo, head of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, said the church in Brazil would not promote the movie.

Meanwhile, a Brazilian lawyer said he had petitioned the government to ban the film.

"The film is not only anti-Semitic, it is anti-Christian too because of its violence and sadism," said Jacob Pinheiro Goldberg, who said he had seen the movie in a pirate DVD copy.

About 73 percent of Brazilians are Roman Catholic and about 15 percent are evangelical Christians. The Jewish population is about 0.6 percent although it is prominent in Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo.

The film, which stars James Caviezel as Jesus and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene, has topped the box office since its release in the United States two weeks ago. It opened on Friday in Portugal and Poland and is also playing in Greece, Australia and New Zealand.