Pope Has Not Endorsed Gibson Film, Report Says

Pope John Paul II’s secretary has 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 on Monday.

Cindy Wooden, a Vatican correspondent for the Catholic News Service, wrote that the secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, told her in an interview on Sunday that while the pope had indeed seen Mr. Gibson’s movie, ”the Holy Father told no one his opinion of the film.”

Archbishop Dziwisz’s statement contradicts reports over recent weeks that the pope, after watching the movie in his private apartment in Vatican City, reacted to the movie’s depiction of the last 12 hours in Jesus’ life 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. Mr. Gibson and his associates have said that that was neither their intent nor the movie’s message.

But they have been selective in choosing audiences for advance screenings of the movie, which is scheduled for release in the United States on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday. One example was a visit that Steve McEveety, one of the movie’s producers, made to Rome in early December. Rarely do mainstream Hollywood figures like Mr. Gibson turn to the Vatican for support, and when Vatican officials take note of a movie it is most likely because they find its depiction of Roman Catholics or Roman Catholicism offensive.

But Mr. 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.

Msgr. Kevin McCoy, the rector of the North American College, the American seminary here, said that after attending one of those screenings he arranged for the movie to be shown to hundreds of seminarians at the college.

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

Shortly thereafter, the conservative writer Peggy Noonan, in a column for the Web site of The Wall Street Journal, quoted Mr. 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.

Until Archbishop Dziwisz’s interview with the Catholic News Service, no Vatican official had gone on the record to confirm or deny the pope’s reported remark.

That Archbishop Dziwisz spoke out is unusual. He is closer to the pope and spends more time with him than anyone else at the Vatican. Partly because of that, he almost never gives formal interviews to reporters. His decision to talk to Ms. Wooden suggests that either he, the pope or other Vatican officials close to the pope had become concerned about the degree to which the pope’s imprimatur was being placed on ”The Passion.”

A telephone message left on Monday at Mr. Gibson’s film company, Icon Productions, was not immediately returned. The film will be distributed by Newmarket Films, which last week said it would release it on 2,000 screens nationwide in response to heavy demand for tickets.

One prominent Roman Catholic official close to the Vatican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he had reason to believe that the pope probably 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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