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Vatican official praises 'Passion' clips

VATICAN CITY -- A senior Vatican official who watched clips from Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion" offered enthusiastic praise Saturday for what he saw, despite concerns from Jewish groups that the movie will promote anti-Semitism.

Many conservative Christians say the unreleased film powerfully depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. But Jewish leaders say the work suggests Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, and could trigger anti-Semitic attacks.

U.S. Archbishop John P. Foley of the church's social-communications office said he hoped to show the film in the Vatican and said he doubted whether criticisms of the film were valid.

"From what I could see of the trailers, it seemed to be an excellent film," Foley said.

"I don't think they would be well-founded criticisms because all the material in the film comes directly from the Gospel accounts. There's nothing in the film that doesn't come from the Gospel accounts.

"So, if they're critical of the film, they would be critical of the Gospel."

Gibson, an Academy Award-winning director, spent nearly $30 million to produce the movie, which is expected to be released in the spring. Gibson has defended his work as faithful to the Gospels and said it is intended "to inspire, not offend."

The Roman Catholic Church formally rejected Jewish culpability in Christ's death nearly 40 years ago.

Gibson is a member of an ultraconservative Catholic movement that rejects the Vatican's authority over the church.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of several Jewish groups and leaders to speak out against "The Passion." Last month, the organization, which works to bring Nazis to justice, urged Gibson to make changes to his film.

Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center's office in Los Angeles said in an August statement that the center had received hate mail accusing it "of being Christ killers" after the group publicly expressed reservations about the film.

"For 20 centuries, the false charges ... have been the core reasons for anti-Semitism, causing the death and persecution of millions of Jews," Hier said at the time.

Foley acknowledged that he had not seen the entire film, but said "in what I saw there was nothing objectionable. It was very faithful to the Gospel."

The archbishop met Gibson last month in Washington.

"I did discuss the film. It would be nice as a possibility to show it here in our own Vatican Pontifical Council for Social Communications. But I've heard no more from him since," Foley said.

He added that he and Gibson did not discuss the actor's views on the Vatican.

"We didn't get into that at all. Our meeting was very comfortable," he said.

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