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Pope Likes Mel Gibson's Film on Christ's Passion

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul has seen Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion" about Christ's final hours and was moved by it, a Vatican source said on Thursday.


He said the pope saw the film with his long-time Polish secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, about 10 days ago.

The source also confirmed reports that the pope told his secretary after viewing the film: "It is as it was," meaning he considered it an authentic portrayal of Gospel accounts of the last hours in Christ's life.

The movie, which covers the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ, has come under fire from some Jewish groups who fear its story could foment anti-Semitism because it portrays Jewish authorities as largely responsible for Christ's death.

But Catholic and other Christian groups, as well as biblical scholars, have defended the film, saying it sticks closely to accounts of the crucifixion as told in the New Testament.

The film, which is due to be released in February, has been shown to a select audience of Catholic officials in several private screenings in recent weeks. The 83-year-old pope viewed the film on a video monitor in his apartments, the source said.

Abraham H. Foxman, U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group would respect the pope's views

"The pope has a record and history of sensitivity to the Jewish community and has a clear moral voice and understanding when it comes to anti-Semitism," Foxman said.

"We hope that Mel Gibson has heard our concerns and those of Christian and Jewish scholars and religious leaders, who expressed unease about the earlier version... and its potential to fuel, rationalize and legitimize anti-Semitism," he said.

Many Vatican officials have seen the film in its latest form and have rejected charges of anti-Semitism.

"I loved it and it is not anti-Semitic," Father Augustine Di Noia, a senior official in the Vatican's doctrinal department, told Reuters on Thursday.

Asked if the film was as violent as has been reported, Di Noia said: "It not just violent, it's brutal."

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Vatican department in charge of priests, liked it so much he said in September: "I would gladly trade some of the homilies that I have given about the passion of Christ for even a few of the scenes of his film."

Gibson paid $20 million to $25 million of his own money to make the movie, but despite his status as a top box office draw and Oscar winner, Hollywood's major studios shied away from distributing the film due to the controversy surrounding it.

The film is based on Gospel narratives and contains dialogue only in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic, the vernacular of ancient Palestine.

Gibson is a member of a traditionalist Roman Catholic group that rejects some of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and still uses the old-style Latin Mass.

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