Score one for Mel Gibson.
The Catholic Church’s official voice in America has washed its hands of a report by some of its own scholars that warns that Gibson’s film about the death of Jesus invokes anti-Semitic images and flouts Catholic doctrine.
The unexpected response by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes after Gibson threatened to sue the group over an allegedly "stolen" script given to interfaith scholars, who concluded the movie will foment anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, Gibson defended "The Passion," declaring in a statement he is not an anti-Semite and that his film conforms "to the narratives … found in the four Gospels of the New Testament."
"Nor do I hate anybody: certainly not the Jews," stated Gibson, who is directing and co-wrote the script. "They are my friends and associates, both in my work and social life."
But interfaith experts told The Jewish Week that Gibson still doesn’t get it. They said the film’s sources are unhistorical, including a mystical 18th-century book, and that the film is dangerous to Jews, as are most Passion plays. They wondered why Gibson did not vet the script with qualified interfaith experts as other filmmakers have.
"The Passion story is like radioactive material," said interfaith expert Rabbi James Rudin. He urged Gibson to follow post-1965 Vatican teachings that reject showing Jews negatively.
Not likely. Gibson is a traditionalist Catholic who has said he believes in a literal interpretation of Scripture, including passages that blame Jews for Jesus’ death. He dismisses recent Vatican doctrine.
Abandoning the scholars, the Bishops Conference instead issued a gag order about the movie. It apologized to Gibson about the script, ignoring its allegedly anti-Semitic content.
"We regret that this situation had occurred," said conference general counsel Mark Chopko, advising the scholars not to publicly comment further.
But in seeming contradiction, the Bishops Conference also maintains it had nothing to do with the report by a panel of nine scholars, even though the five Catholics are conference advisers and the team (including four Jews) was assembled by the conference’s interfaith leader, Dr. Eugene Fisher.
The Bishops Conference statement said that "neither the Bishop’s Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, nor any other committee … established this group, or authorized, reviewed or approved the report written by its members."
Gibson’s Icon Productions said the pre-production script came from a "Deep Throat" mole at the movie company.
"No one has a right to publicly critique a film that has not even been completed," declared Icon producer Steve McEveety.
The Bishops Conference agreed to review the film only after its release next spring. But interfaith experts warn that would be too late.
And Father John Pawlikowski, another panel member, said he was "personally disappointed that the Bishops Conference moved away from this issue." He said the scholars "did not in any way" know they were using a pirated script, and if it came from Icon "that was not our problem."
The Anti-Defamation League, whose interfaith expert worked on the report, said it would return scripts but would not apologize or be silent.