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Vatican hope for Gibson’s Christ

Los Angeles, Dec. 10 (Reuters): A screening of Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion of Christ for a trio of highly influential Vatican congregations resulted in a strong endorsement from an American official of one of the three.

However, the endorsement prompted calls from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish rights group, for Gibson to make screenings available to those concerned about the film’s purported anti-Semitic content.

According to the Zenit international news service, which tracks Vatican news and communications, The Passion was screened for members of the Vatican secretariat of state, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith this past weekend.

The report did not specify who from the congregations was present for the screening but did say that those present expressed “unanimous appreciation and approval” of the film.

The film, which is an account of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ, has been at the centre of controversy, having stirred concerns on the part of the ADL that it purportedly carries an anti-Semitic message. The movie is being produced by Gibson’s Icon Productions.

Also included in the Zenit report was an interview with Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation, who lauded the film as a “production of exquisite artistic and religious sensitivity.”

“The film neither exaggerates nor downplays the role of Jewish authorities and legal proceedings in the condemnation of Jesus,” Di Noia said in his comments.

“But precisely because it presents a comprehensive account of what might be called the ‘calculus of blame’ in the passion and death of Christ, the film would be more likely to quell anti-Semitism in its audiences than to excite it.”

Last week, plans for a screening of the film for a select audience of bishops and cardinals scheduled to coincide with the weeklong International Festival of Spiritual Movies in Rome fell through. Organisers were informed that they would have to wait as Gibson was still working on the final version.

Yesterday, ADL national director Abraham Foxman expressed suspicion over the quick turnaround following last week’s cancellation.

“It is a little strange that it is ready, but be that as it may, I hope that their judgment is good,” Foxman said. “I hope that it is free of what we are concerned about and that is the blaming of the Jews.”

Foxman also was critical of Gibson and Icon’s refusal to screen the film for him. “And while I respect (the Vatican’s) views on theology, I don’t know if they are the best to judge it on how it will impact Jews,” he said.

Father Thomas Rausch, a professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, warned that while the three congregations were influential within the Vatican bureaucracy, an endorsement by a single member or a congregation itself should not be misconstrued as an endorsement by the Vatican.

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