The Passion of Christ, a Hollywood film written and directed by Mel Gibson was premiered in American and British movies on February 25, 2004. For Abraham Foxman, executive director of a Jew organization, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), «the film presents without any ambiguity Jew authorities and crowds as the responsible of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. The film has filled us with dismayed because if shown in its current version hatred, excessive piousness and anti-Semitism will increase... many responsible Churches have begun to condemn it». In just a few weeks, the polemic has taken unexpected dimensions in the United States for the political alliance between fundamentalist Christians and Zionist organizations has been completely destroyed.

Australian actor Mel Gibson became world famous for his part in films Mad Max and Lethal Weapon. Not long ago, he became a catholic and has professed a traditional version of this cult. He has invested 25 million dollars in this project which he considers was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Wiesenthal Center Starts the Polemic

On March 7, 2003, the Wall Street Journal praised the film in an article written and signed by the director of the powerful television network of Mother Angelica.

The very same day, the Center Simon Wiesenthal published in the famous New York Times a communiqué [1] written by its founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, to response in advance to an article he knew would be published later. The well known Rabbi, a documentary films maker too about the Holocaust, stated he was fill with dismay «if as I think, Mel Gibson’s film is aimed at scorning the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. This historical conclave (sic) of the Vatican not only successfully changed the language in which the catholic mass was celebrated but discussed very difficult topics, and specifically rejected the idea that Jews were all together responsible of Jesus death. The simplest truth is that crucifixion was not a Jew but a Roman torture and the Jews were controlled by Rome in that time».

These statements were immediately spread by information agencies. This communiqué of Rabbi Marvin Hier marked the beginning of the controversy. But the most amazing thing was that when it was published the film was still being shot. Reporter Christopher Noxon described Gibson as a fundamentalist catholic in favor of masses celebrated in Latin. Noxon also talked about the negationist positions of Hutton Gibson, Mel Gibson’s father. [2]

The Wiesenthal Center expressed itself in a deductive way, or based on information it didn’t have access to, which were not published yet, to express, a priori, its opinion on the work of a catholic fond of mass celebrated in Latin, wrongly considering the man alone could generate anti-Judaism. This reaction gave the polemic a new approach because collective responsibility and anti-Semitism were not the only topics debated. People began to wonder who had killed Jesus, a fact that opened the debates on the very same Gospels.

Under the Artillery of the Anti-Defamation League

Some time later, an informal Judeo-catholic group co-presided by Eugene Fisher of the American Episcopal Conference and Rabbi Eugene Korn of the anti-Defamation League B’nai B’rith (ADL), illegally got a synopsis of the film. [3]

The purpose of this active group [4]was to purge and eliminate all anti-Semitic or sexist elements of Christianity. Later, it sent a report to Mel Gibson in which it warned him about the risks of arousing anti-Semitism with his film and asked him to make several changes. Due to Gibson’s rejection, this group published an article in Los Angeles Times in which Rabbi Marvin Hier’s arguments were repeated and Gibson’s film was unscrupulously accused of anti Semitism though this time they used the illegally-gotten-synopsis as evidence. [5]

This blackmail was denounced by Zenit agency on May 30. [6] This agency, which belongs to the Legionaries of Christ, is a right-wing catholic congregation. As exclusivity, it had previously published Mel Gibson’s first interview identifying itself with him and the film. To confront the scandal, the Episcopal Conference disapproved this group’s behavior though at the same time made emphasis on its viewpoint by publishing an old publication titled: “Criteria for the evaluation of the Passion” [7] in which it condemned all anti-Semite interpretation of the Gospel. But this attempt to calm down the spirits was not enough to stop the controversy. On its side, the Anti-Defamation League used its public relations to publish excerpts of its “classified” report several times in the press.

However, many personalities defended Gibson. For instance, David Klinghoffer [8]did it on Jew magazine Forward; Monsignor Charles Chaput, archbishop of Denver, did it on Denver Catholic Register. [9] _ However, the controversy was not about knowing if the film was anti-Semite or not, but about knowing if the Judeo-Christian alliance entailed a censure of some parts of the Gospel capable of fueling anti-Semitism.

But some Zionist Christians who understand the southerner Evangelists and Baptists -George W. Bush followers- have always been identified with a fundamentalist understanding of the Scriptures. In this anachronical way, they have interpreted word “Israel” in the Bible as a designation of the current State of Israel and have seen the clash of civilizations, the neo-conservatives’ argument, as the prophetic realization of the Armageddon.

The Opus Dei Controls the Case

It was in this context that on December 5 and 6, 2003, the co-producer of the film, Steve McEveety, held an exclusive private showing of the film for Pope John Paul II thanks to his powerful relations in the Roman Curia, especially with His Eminence Dario Castrillón Hoyos and Dominican Joseph Augustine Di Noia, the right hand of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (number 2 in the Holy See). The film showing was coordinated by the Pope’ personal secretary, Monsignor Stanilaw Dziwisz, and the movie maker’s young assistant, Jan Michelini, who is the son of Alberto Nicheline, the former spokesman of Opus Dei in Italy and current deputy of Forza Italia (extreme right-wing party currently in power whose president Silvio Berlusconi has had a “dark” past). Young Jan was the first newborn baptized by Pope John Paul II when he ascended to the Pontificate. From this moment, the Gibson case called the attention of Opus Dei which started to control the controversy to turn it into an important tool of its political propaganda.

When the film showing ended, the Pope talked about his excitement and satisfaction. His communication director, Joaquin Navarro-Valls sent e-mails to producers so that they would publish the Pope’s statements. Very precise quotations appeared in conservative The Wall Street Journal signed by Peggy Noonan. [10]One of them said: «It is as it was» and was even used as the headline of the article. [11] This meant that from that moment on attacking the film was attacking the Pope. John Paul II became a defender of the Gospel before the ADL’s political correct plans. The public debate declined, particularly in The New York Times which seemed to be the official organ of the Anti-Defamation League. With a usual hypocrisy, Joaquin Navarro-Valls denied the Wall Street Journal declarations by saying the Holy Father never talked in public about artistic works. [12] Joaquin Navarro-Valls was a former spokesperson of the Opus Dei in Spain. He is also a psychiatrist and a specialist in masses manipulation.

The Clash of Civilizations Cedes its Place to the Clash between Jews and Christians

In a few weeks, the whole matter was transformed in a real confrontation among religious organizations in the United States. It was not the moment for subtleties. The alliance between protestant evangelist and Zionist Jews, patiently consolidated during two decades has been destroyed. The clash of civilizations (Jew-Christians against Muslims) has disappeared to bring about old religious wars (Christians against Jews). Catholics and Protestants are currently mobilizing their networks of support of the Pope to promote Gibson’s film against the Anti-Defamation League. On the other hand, the Holy See -whose Christian leadership was stolen by George W. Bush who has also imposed two unpopular wars in the Gulf-, is getting its “rights” back.

[1Wiesenthal Center on Gibson Film: going back to pre-Vatican II may give rise to anti-Semitism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center Communiqué, March 7, 2003.

[2Christopher Noxon: “Is the Pope Catholic... Enough?”, The New York Times, March 9, 2003. Christopher Noxon is a journalist of Los Angeles Times. This article had been rejected by his diary and Vanity Fair before being published by the New York Times.

[3According to Eugene Fisher the synopsis of the film was sent anonymously through the postal the mail of Rabbi Yehiel Poupko of Chicago.

[4This ad hoc group is formed by: Dr. Mary C. Boys, professor of theology, SNJM Skinner & McAlpin Chair, Union Theological Seminary, New York; Dr. Michael J. Cook, professor of Judeo-Christian studies, Sol & Arlene Bronstein Chair, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati; Dr. Philip A. Cunningham, executive director, senior professor of theology, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College; Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, associate director, Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, American Episcopal Conference; Dr. Paula Fredriksen, professor of Scriptures, Boston University; Rev. Dr. Lawrence E. Frizzell, director, Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies, Seton Hall University, East Orange, NJ; Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, director, Religious Affairs Bureau, Anti-Defamation League; Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament Studies, Carpenter Chair, Vanderbilt University, Nashville; Dr. John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, professor of social ethic, director of Judeo-Christian studies, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

[5Bettijane Levine: “Scholars Concerned about Film’s Fallout”, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2003.

[6“Controversy Swiris around Mel Gibson’s ’Passion’”, Zénit, May 30, 2003.

[7Criteria for the Evaluation of the Passion, Comité ecuménico para los asuntos inter-religiosos, American Episcoal Conference, 1998.

[8David Klinghoffer is an orthodox Jew specialized on Jew Christian relations. He is the author of Why the Jews Rejected Christ: In Search of the Turning Point in Western History (Doubleday).

[9Charles Chaput: “Mel Gibson, ’The Passion’ and critics who can’t wait”, Denver Catholic Register, May 28, 2003.

[10Peggy Noonan is a former coolaborator of Ronald Reagan. She was the person who wrote his speeches.

[11Peggy Noonan: «It is as it was. Mel Gibson’s ’The passion’ gets a thumbs-up from the pope», The Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2003.

[12Dichiarazione del direttore della sala stampa della Sante Sede, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Vatican Information Servize, January 22, 2004.