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Pell defends violence of The Passion

Sydney's Cardinal George Pell has said that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is "very confronting, very violent", but that the violence, and Jesus' reaction to it, is the very point of the film and the Passion narratives themselves.

The Passion of the Christ was released in Australia and internationally yesterday, Ash Wednesday. The film, based on Gospel narratives, is Gibson's interpretation of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ.

The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) took the unusual of step of issuing a statement reminding parents the film was classified MA15+ and had an extra warning about its graphic violence. Material classified MA15+ is only considered suitable for people over 15 and anyone under that age must be accompanied by an adult.

Cardinal Pell said on ABC TV's 7:30 Report: "I think the point of the film, the point of the Passion narratives, is precisely Jesus's reactions to the violence, how he takes it, what message he gives out despite the suffering that he has received."

He said he is grateful that Mel Gibson has put the Bible back in the headlines.

"I'm delighted that this film is producing such a discussion of Christ, what is his true message, and what is the significance of his life and death."

Rabbi Raymond Apple of the Great Synagogue in Sydney argued on the 7:30 Report that the violence "in some ways obscured the message", while commentator Stephen Crittenden described it as "Mad Max for Christians".

"This is Mel Gibson catering to the kind of -- his sense of the ruling aesthetic at the moment, which is violent," he said. "And I think by overemphasising the violence to the degree that he has, he's lost the spirituality in the story, he's lot the great sort of human dramatic moments."

Benedictine Dom Henry Wansbrough, member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and translator and editor of the New Jerusalem Bible told ABC Radio's Religion Report that the film, like the Gospels themselves, contains little historical truth.

Fr Brendan Byrne SJ, a former member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, told The Age that the film, like the Gospels, does not purport to be a historical reconstruction.

"It was more like a meditation or opera, and that is going in the right direction because it is more faithful to the Gospels."

He said he was grasped by the film's opening scene and remained grasped. The treatment of Pontius Pilate and his wife was moving, though the historical Pilate was a cruel and bloodthirsty Roman governor.

"The main point, paradoxically, is that it's not the film that's the biggest problem for Christian interpreters, it's the Gospels. If this film can make Christians realise how carefully they have to interpret the gospel it will do a service."

Fr Byrne said he kept seeing images of the way Jews were treated in the Holocaust. "Jesus' humiliation is the humiliation of a Jew," he said.

Critics offer their own message on Gibson's 'Passion' (ABC 7:30 Report)
The Passion of the Christ (ABC Radio The Religion Report 25/2/04)
Not all agree on Passion (The Age 26/2/04)
Censor warns parents of Passion violence (AAP/ninemsn 25/2/04)

Passion crosses boundary (The Advertiser 26/2/04)
Gibson film divides US (Herald-Sun/ 26/2/04)
Christians the most eager to cast stones (Sydney Morning Herald 26/2/04)
Censor warns of graphic violence (The Age 25/4/04)
Almost literally the most realistic story ever told (Sydney Morning Herald 25/2/04)
Scholars find fault in Gibson's 'Passion' (ABC/Reuters 25/2/04)
Passion of the Christ hits cinemas (Ananova)
Cinemas braced for Mel's 'Passion' (Hello 25/2/04)
Mel Gibson: Action hero gets serious (BBC 25/2/04)
Mel's Film Sparks Passion for Nails (The Scotsman 25/2/04)
Gibson film opens to fierce passions (The Herald, UK, 25/2/04)
Critics crucify Gibson's Passion (The Scotsman 25/2/04)
Scholars find fault in Gibson's "Passion" (Reuters 24/2/04)
Cardinal Pell on "The Passion" (Zenit 24/2/04)
Controversy sparks 'Passion' ticket sales (Newsday 24/2/04)
Passion Players (New Republic 23/2/04)
Rivers of light: Movie on the Passion was accented by stream of the miraculous (Spirit Daily)
The Passion of the Christ (Toronto Globe and Mail 25/2/04)
Viewers need to be warned (Catholic Weekly 29/2/04)
Why Is It Called The Passion? (Slate 24/2/04)
Koppel Tackles The Passion (National Review Online 24/2/04)
Judge ye not Gibson's film until you've actually seen it (Chicago Sun-Times 24/2/04)
A dark and bloody spectacle (Toronto Star 25/2/04)
'Passion' rekindles debate over meaning of the crucifixion (Christian Science Monitor 25/2/04)
Mel Gibson's 'Passion' What makes this film different? (Beliefnet)
Catholic Leaders 'Dispassionate' on Mel Movie? (Beliefnet)
Unparalleled Passion (National Review Online 25/2/04)
Good and Evil Locked in Violent Showdown (New York Times 25/2/04)
An obscene portrayal of Christ's Passion (Boston Globe 24/2/04)
The Passion of the Christ (official website)
Archdiocese of Sydney - The Passion of the Christ website

26 Feb 2004