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US Bishops' mixed assessment of The Passion

The US Bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting has faulted Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ for its "in-your-face rawness that is much too intense for children", but dismissed charges that the movie blames the Jews collectively for the death of Jesus.

"Unflinching in its brutality and penetrating in its iconography of God's supreme love for humanity, the film will mean different things to people of diverse backgrounds," said the office's review.

Although the violence in The Passion is not "made to look exciting, glamourised or without consequences," viewers may be "repelled by such unremitting inhumanity," the review said.

While Sydney's Cardinal George Pell said on Wednesday that the violence, and Jesus' reaction to it, is the very point of the film and the Passion narratives themselves, the US Bishops' review says that "such savagery" may be ultimately "self-defeating in trying to capture the imagination of the everyday moviegoer".

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Francis Carroll also focused his comments on the level of violence, suggesting that the film is "certainly not to be recommended to children or impressionable people", but nevertheless "a film very worthwhile seeing".

The US review added that co-writer, producer and director Gibson "has undoubtedly created one of the most anticipated and controversial films of recent times."

The writers cited "flaws as well as triumphs ..., such as a recurring tendency to slip into the horror-genre conventions, including a scene of a guilt-racked Judas being taunted by little boys whose faces turn into those of grotesque, macabre ghouls."

On the question of whether the film is anti-Semitic, they said the movie "suggests that all humanity shares culpability for the Crucifixion" and makes it "abundantly clear that it is the Romans who are Christ's executioners."

The reviewers said "The Passion" may have "little resonance" for those viewing it "without a faith perspective." But for Christians, they said, it "is likely to arouse not only passionate opinions, but hopefully a deeper understanding of the drama of salvation and the magnitude of God's love and forgiveness."

In Rome, as in the UK and some other countries, the film will not open until Holy Week. But Archbishop John Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, praised the movie in an interview with the Rome newspaper La Repubblica.

"It made me meditate on my own responsibility for the passion of Christ," he said.

Archbishop Foley said that he saw no reason for the Holy See to offer any official comment on the film. He pointed out that individual bishops' conferences can make statements, responding to any concerns that might arise in their particular countries.

Bishops' reviewers see flaws but no anti-Semitism in 'The Passion' (Catholic News Service 25/2/04)
Passion not for the faint-hearted (Catholic Leader 29/2/04)
Roman reactions to The Passion (Catholic World News 26/2/04)

Pure Pornography (Andrew Sullivan 26/2/04)
Jesus Christ, cinema star (Boston Globe 22/2/04)
The Passion and the Fury (American Spectator 25/2/04)
Gibson's 'Passion' for movie profits (Boston Globe 26/2/04)
Catholic bishops give 'Passion' mixed review (Boston Globe 26/2/04)
[Chief Rabbi] Metzger urges Pope to say Jews not to blame for crucifixion ( 26/2/04)
Canadian Web Site Focuses on "The Passion" (Zenit 25/2/04)
'It's about faith, love, hope and forgiveness' (Catholic Weekly 29/2/04)
The Passion of the Christ (official website)
Archdiocese of Sydney - The Passion of the Christ website

27 Feb 2004