French Catholic bishops blast Gibson's The Passion
PARIS -- French Roman Catholic bishops have officially denounced Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of The Christ, which opened in France on Wednesday, as potentially anti-Semitic and a distortion of Christian teaching.
In an unusual statement on a commercial film, the bishops' conference said the traditionalist Catholic Gibson had made a film that might not be anti-Semitic but "could be used to support anti-Semitic opinions."
"In this film, the face of Christ shows through less than the obsessions of our times -- the dread of evil, fascination with violence and the search for the guilty," the information committee of the bishops' conference declared.
The reaction in France to the graphic film about the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life has been hostile, with both secular film critics and Church leaders denouncing the extreme violence of the scourging and crucifixion scenes.
A Paris court on Monday rejected a bid from three Jewish brothers to have the film banned on the grounds that it could incite more anti-Semitic violence in a country struggling to contain a rise in attacks on Jews over the past three years.
Several leading Jewish personalities in the United States have denounced the film as anti-Semitic, but the attempt to ban it in France appeared to be the only legal assault against it.
"(The film's) violence, which overwhelms the spectator, ends up blotting out the meaning of the Passion and the essence of Christ's person and message -- love carried to its perfection by the voluntary giving of one's self," said the bishops.
Noting the film opening in 500 cinemas around France was banned for children under 12, it added: "Isn't it paradoxical that a film about Jesus cannot be shown to children?"
Leading French Catholics, including Paris Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, have expressed their personal dislike of the film but the bishops' criticism was the first official statement from the Church hierarchy.
Paris newspapers devoted up to three pages of mostly hostile reviews to mark the film's premiere in France.
The only daily praising it was the conservative Le Figaro, which called the film "a great work... for the depth of its thinking and the beauty of its internal structure." -- Reuters