February 9, 2004
vol 15, no. 40

The Countdown Continues!
    Find out which theaters will be showing 'The Passion of The Christ' nationwide. Go to Movie Theaters carrying the Movie and click on your desired state to find the city and theater. Then you can call the theater to reserve Advance Tickets for the theater of your choice.

    In anticipation of one of the greatest films impact-wise to ever open, we are counting down to Opening Day on Ash Wednesday when in theaters everywhere people will be moved by the Traditional inspiration of Mel Gibson who many see as a Hollywood movie star, but True Catholics see him as an evangelist in the purist sense. A true Apostle for the Truths and Traditions of the Church Christ founded. Mel has set on celluloid what has always been set in stone: the everlasting reminder of why Christ died for each and every one of us. We have that reminder daily in the Latin Mass when the alter Christus - the priest offers Him up as a propitiatory sacrifice in an unbloody manner to the Father for us. Prayerfully this movie will move the hearts and souls of millions to return to the Truths and Traditions of Christ's True Church.

Posted: Feb 9

Editor's Note: The following article which appeared in the Chicago Tribune was sent by Gary Morella with comments by Catholic in red and Gary's comments in blue. It confirms exactly what we have been pointing out in our editorials, specifically 'It' depends on what 'is' was!, that there is an anti-Traditional bent to all these attacks against Mel Gibson and Traditional Catholics. The Tribune reporters also show their total ignorance which is pointed out so clearly by Morella and Catholic Citizens.

PRAVDA CHICAGO (aka Tribune) "reports" on the progess of Gibson's Passion with ammunition from heterodox "ethics" professor Father John Pawlikowski from left wing Catholic Theological Union 2/8/2004 8:18:00 AM

(CCI NOTES: Leave it to PRAVDA CHICAGO (aka Tribune) for constructing a "news" story on a self-described Traditional Catholic, without including comments from ANY local OR national Traditional Catholics. Keep in mind that the Latin Mass community at Chicago's St. John Cantius is recognized nationwide as the Traditionalist model, but of course, that's of no concern to PRAVDA. They've got an agenda to move... Another interesting quote from Father P. is his lecturing Gibson for "cynically manipulating" the Gospels. Give me a break, please... CTU, and heterodox "Catholic" colleges like them, have been cynically manipulating the teachings of the Church for decades, which are a direct cause the current crisis - abuse, indifference, and decay. It is precisely because Gibson's movie threatens to reverse these trends by encouraging authentic devotion to Christ that the media and the "social justice" and ecu-mania Catholics like Father P. as so terrified of "The Passion.")

How Mel Gibson defied Hollywood and mobilized churches for the selling of 'The Passion'

By - Mark Caro and Lou Carlozo

Although "The Passion of the Christ" is, on the surface, a collision of blatantly non-commercial elements, it is racking up the kind of advance sales recently reserved for movies about hobbits or boy wizards. Gibson's cinematic interpretation of the Gospels -- spoken in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew and, by all accounts, drenched in blood -- has been the beneficiary of an unprecedented, aggressive marketing campaign aimed almost exclusively at the country's evangelical Protestant and conservative Catholic communities. Just over the past few weeks, writer-director Gibson and his production company Icon have shown "The Passion," which stars Jim Caviezel ("The Count of Monte Cristo") as Jesus, to about 10,000 pastors at screenings in Orlando, Orange County, Calif., and South Barrington's non-denominational "megachurch," Willow Creek Community Church. These have taken place while other religious officials and scholars have complained that they've been prohibited from seeing the film. "Basically he hasn't shown it to any mainline Catholic group or any mainline Protestant group," said Father John Pawlikowski, a social ethics professor at the Chicago-based Catholic Theological Union and an early critic of the "Passion" script. Those on the "Passion" bandwagon have been busy spreading the Word. Forget the often-adversarial relationship between churches and commercial films: Many churches have been showing trailers for "The Passion" during services and buying advance tickets by the busload. Gibson is a Traditionalist Catholic who rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which declared, among other things, that the Jews were not collectively responsible for Jesus' death and are not "rejected or accursed by God." Traditionalists generally do not recognize the authority of any pope since those 1965 proclamations.

    [It is a bald-face lie to say that "traditionalists generally do not recognize the authority of any pope since those 1965 proclamations." Traditionalists are not sede vacantists in general by a longshot. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council that Traditionalists have the main problem with are directly related to the Protestantization of the Mass where changes to the liturgy have as an obvious derivative changes to the faith, something that the dissenting liberal periti of the council who would destroy the Church from within intended from the outset. THE problem is that the Jews do not want ANY RESPONSIBILTY WHATSOEVER for the death of Jesus evidently wanting the world to believe that Jesus did not love them enough to die for their sins. Mankind is collectively responsible for the Jesus' death, which, as the Gospels make very clear, INCLUDES THE JEWS. It's amazing that Foxman's ADL does not decry the God of Moses for being anti-Semitic for punishing the Hebrews for worshiping a golden calf, as Moses discovered in his descent from Mt. Sinai, and for their subsequent years of wandering in the desert! - Gary L. Morella]

Gibson has said he based "The Passion" on his readings of the Gospels, medical accounts of Jesus' torture, the fevered visions of stigmatic (and anti-Semitic) 19th Century nun Anne Catherine Emmerich and his own imagination. He discounted more contemporary, historical accounts of Jesus' last days.

    [The more contemporary historical accounts that are rightfully discounted are those which bear no relationship whatsoever to the authenticity of the Gospels. Rather, they are the musing of historical critics gone mad who would have us believe ala the bogus Jesus Seminar led by the likes of former priest, John Dominic Crossan, that Jesus Christ was nothing more than a Jewish Mediterranean peasant who died a beggars death on the cross, and Whose Body was eaten by ravenous dogs in FULL DENIAL of the Resurrection, i.e., in FULL DENIAL of the faith. - Gary L. Morella]

The filmmaker has publicly battled with some Christian and Jewish scholars, who have criticized the film for including anti-Semitic elements, and the resultant controversies could be viewed as a savvy, inexpensive publicity campaign. As Gibson told The New Yorker in its Sept. 15, 2003, profile of him: "Inadvertently, all the problems and the conflicts and stuff -- this is some of the best marketing and publicity I have ever seen."

It's worth noting that Philip Saville's "The Gospel of John" was released last fall and covered similar ground minus "The Passion's" big budget (reportedly $25 million of Gibson's own money), the Hollywood star connection and the massive church mobilization effort. It grossed $3.4 million in North America, a respectable figure for such a specialized picture.

Newmarket Films President Bob Berney, whose company is distributing "The Passion," said advance ticket sales were close to $5 million three weeks before the Feb. 25/Ash Wednesday release date. "People don't generally buy movie tickets more than a day in advance for anything but event films, so to have this level of interest is amazing," said Berney, who oversaw the surprise smash release of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" with IFC Films before taking over Newmarket, the company behind indie hits "Whale Rider" and "Monster."

Although both "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "The Passion" have benefited from intense grass-roots campaigns, Berney said the chief difference between their release patterns is that the 2002 comedy started on relatively few screens and grew its business over months while "The Passion" is receiving by far the widest release ever for a subtitled film. Newmarket will open "The Passion" on about 2,000 screens.

As of Wednesday, the online/phone ticketing service Fandango reported that "The Passion" already was accounting for 54 percent of its total ticket sales. AMC Theaters spokesman Rick King said his chain has been selling advance "Passion" tickets only to groups of 25 or more, yet "our group sales department is dealing with two to three days' worth of backlog on sales inquiries. We've presold a number of auditoriums, and we will be running multiple prints."

Such demand, he added, is unprecedented. "`The Return of the King,' `Harry Potter' are typically smaller, family-size groups whereas the predominant sales pattern here is to churches," Berney said.

Those churches range in size and reach. Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, Calif., founded by best-selling spiritual self-help author Rick Warren ("The Purpose-Driven Life"), reports to have sold out all 18,000 of the "Passion" tickets it purchased.

The Evangelical Free Church of Naperville (EFCN) has bought more than 1,200 advance tickets, and church members and their guests will attend five screenings over four days at the nearby Cinemark Theater at Seven Bridges in Woodridge. Naperville's Life Point Church, an Assemblies of God congregation less than a year old, has only 30 members ranging in age from 18 to 35, but nearly everyone is expected to attend a "Passion" screening after an upcoming Sunday service.

"This is a great opportunity to embrace something that represents what really happened in scripture," said Life Point pastor Kevin Diederich, whose church has been showing the film's trailer during services. "I am a little leery of the church getting involved in all this publicity. But that's not why Mel Gibson made the movie, I think, or why we're getting involved. We just think it's going to be a good movie."

Outreach Inc., a company working with Icon, reports to have serviced "most churches in the United States" with trailers and other materials that come on a DVD kit. Outreach's Web site ( is topped by a banner depicting the film's logo plus the line "Perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2000 years."

The Web site encourages churches to show their congregations "the G-rated trailer" (for the R-rated film) "and then share with them how your church will be helping equip them to reach their friends and neighbors for Christ." Suggestions include buying blocks of "Passion" tickets, distributing "Passion-related door hangers to the homes surrounding your church," scheduling "a Passion-related sermon series leading up to Easter" and the "saturation mailing" of "`The Passion of the Christ' Impact Cards."

Christian radio help

Also boosting the movie are Christian radio stations WYLL-AM 1160 and WZFS-FM 106.7 ("The Fish") and the rest of the Salem Communications chain.

"All of our Salem radio stations, to the best of my knowledge, are doing something with this," said "Fish" program director Kevin Robinson, who likened the efforts to the successful promotions of Christian music. "Our radio reps are pushing this project big time. It's the story that we as Christians want the world to see."

Rick Pierson, EFCN's pastor of spiritual life, saw the movie at Willow Creek and deemed it "extremely biblically accurate" and appreciates the opportunity to use it for recruitment. "As a church, sure, we see it as outreach," he said. "We see it as a chance for people to come to grips with who Jesus Christ is."

Gabriel Snyder, who has been covering "The Passion" for the movie trade paper Variety, said Gibson's marketing strategy has been to home in on the movie's strongest niche.

"What he's doing as far as screening it to Christian groups -- some of which are evangelical, some of which are politically conservative -- is, I believe, trying to generate a core audience for this film, appealing to people who are most likely to respond," Snyder said.

But Jonathan Schwartz, assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Chicago chapter, expressed disappointment that Gibson hasn't shown the movie to more ideologically diverse viewers.

"I think it's very telling that he's only screening the movie to an invitation-only gathering of like-minded people," Schwartz said. "I think if somebody was genuinely concerned with safeguarding that an unintended message is not transmitted or that [there isn't] a harmful polarizing effect, one would think that you would include religious leaders and scholars of all bents and persuasions."

Rocky relationship

Gibson had a rocky relationship with his project's critics. Pawlikowski, who directs the Catholic Theological Union's Catholic-Jewish Studies Program, was part of a nine-person, interreligious panel that sent Gibson a scathing critique of the script last spring.

"We concluded it was one of the worst things we'd seen in 25 years," Pawlikowski said. "It went to all the classical accusations about primary Jewish responsibility for the death of Christ, which, of course, was the source of a great deal of anti-Semitism from the Christian side over the centuries."

    [Pawlikowski's comments here are pure unadulterated trash with the comments of high Church officials repudiating his heterodox vision of Scripture as evidence . - Gary L. Morella]

Icon responded by threatening a lawsuit over the use of a "stolen" script.

Although Pawlikowski said the communications with Gibson were intended to be private, both sides quickly went public in a war of words that has kept "The Passion" in the news for months.

Last August, The New York Times' Frank Rich wrote a column accusing Gibson of "baiting" Jews by publicly anticipating their attacks even as he refused to show the film to anyone but political and Christian conservatives.

In the New Yorker profile, Gibson shot back: "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. . . . I want to kill his dog."

Over the past two weeks, Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, who saw the Orlando screening by paying $295 to attend the associated Global Pastors Network conference, and Gibson reportedly have exchanged letters. Variety reported that Foxman found the movie troublesome and asked for a meeting with the filmmaker.

Gibson promised no such meeting or alterations but wrote, "You are a man of integrity and a man of faith, and I do not take your concerns lightly."

Controversial line

Last week The New York Times, quoting an anonymous source, reported that Gibson had agreed to remove one of the film's most controversial lines, taken from Matthew 27:25, in which a Jewish high priest, after encouraging a reluctant Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus, proclaims: "His blood be on us and on our children." This so-called "blood libel" has been used as justification for punishing Jews for their continued guilt over Jesus' death.

In fact, that line had been removed from the film by the time of last September's New Yorker article, in which Gibson said, "Man, if I included that in there, they'd be coming after me at my house, they'd come kill me." But those who attended more recent screenings said the line was back in.

Gibson publicist Alan Nierob said he couldn't confirm that the line had been deleted because the movie is "not locked yet. It's not done." But he acknowledged that the line had gone out and in on various prints.

"That would probably be accurate," Nierob said. "Any filmmaker tests different versions of their films."

Pawlikowski condemned Gibson for making a public spectacle of whether to include the line.

"This blood libel charge, which is a questionable text anyway in terms of the Gospels, has caused so much concrete suffering for Jews over the centuries," he said. "To cynically manipulate this text in terms of including it or not including it I just find disgusting."

Even Pope John Paul II, who has embraced the Vatican II reconciliation with the Jews, has become part of the "Passion" publicity efforts.

Gibson had the movie screened for the pope late last year, and subsequently the National Catholic Reporter and conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, writing online for the Wall Street Journal, reported that the Holy Father had said of the film, "It is as it was."

Noonan sourced "Passion" producer Steve McEveety, who said he had heard of the pope's reaction from Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, a close associate of the pope. But Dziwisz responded to the report by telling the Catholic News Service that the pope had never made such an endorsement.

John Allen, who reported the story for the National Catholic Reporter, speculated that Vatican officials simply didn't want the pope's comments made public. "They didn't want him exploited," Allen said.

Will the various controversies surrounding "The Passion" ultimately help or hurt the film?

"I have no idea," Nierob said. "Awareness is always good for a film."

Disputes boost marketing

Snyder said he thinks the public disputes do, in effect, work as marketing.

"The controversy has certainly helped it because it's created huge awareness of the film, and the core audience that is being marketed to, the Christian groups, seem to be on Gibson's side on whether or not it is anti-Semitic," Snyder said.

As for whether "The Passion" will have lasting appeal beyond that initial burst of church-driven business, that's the $25 million question.

Berney said he expects the film to fill a vacuum among viewers, particularly those in the Midwest and South, who desire a kind of movie that Hollywood generally doesn't provide.

"There's a real market for a religious-themed film, and there's a certain feeling that Hollywood doesn't deliver to the market," Berney said.

One of the few non-religious tests of "The Passion" was its screening in December at the 24-hour "Butt-Numb-A-Thon" movie marathon hosted by Ain't-It-Cool-News Web site founder Harry Knowles in Austin, Tex. "The Passion" was the last movie programmed, starting at 10 a.m. on a Sunday after 22 hours of film.

And Knowles said his audience of movie-geek "agnostics" was "dumbstruck" by the movie, in a good way. "It's a pretty incredible piece of cinema," Knowles said, though he noted that "it's easily as graphic, if not more so, than `Kill Bill.'"

Gibson surprised the crowd afterward by coming out for a Q&A, which lasted 90 minutes even though the audience members already had been in their seats for more than 24 hours. Yet what struck Knowles most was Gibson's demeanor as he faced the audience.

"When he actually came out after the screening, he was terrified," Knowles said. "He was extremely nervous and visibly kind of frightened. It was the wierdest thing that I've ever seen as a host of a screening. I've never seen a filmmaker come out as scared of an audience as he was when he first came out. I think what's happened is he's had so many people that have been attacking him by proxy, as opposed to seeing the film -- and at the same time he hasn't shown them the film."

As producer McEveety said, "There's a whole lot of opinions out there, and I'm excited to let everyone have their opinion come the 25th of February."

Posted: Feb 7

'It is as it was' wasn't because, as it is, they're still coming up with more excuses to claim it never was!

    Editor's Comments:

       Below is an account from INSIDE THE VATICAN Magazine just released which includes an article by their 'good friend' Sandro Magister. Regardless, the whole point comes down to the waffling trend the Vatican has been famous for of late, as John Vennari affirmed in this issue Thursday, that "the more they deny, the more they confirm."

       Interesting, is it not that John Paul II greatly and enthusiastically applauded a circus performance the first of the year in the Vatican and just last week hip-hop breakdancers received his hearty endorsement vividly televised and photographed? Is it any wonder another movie "You Got Served" did so well at the box office last week? It was a strictly cultural in-your-face B-minus flick that couldn't hold a cup of popcorn to the cutting floor rejects of Mel Gibson's masterpiece. Yet so many saw the news clips over and over of the Pope approving of breakdancing and hip-hop! You saw his animated gestures and approving smile vividly captured on tape and photos. Frankly, it was a profane display of how low the Papacy has sunk to in celebrating the ridiculous rather than the sublime. Now are the Vatican spinsters going to tell us that what you and I saw with our own eyes and ears was not as it was, that the cameras lied?

      Considering all the excuses listed below by ITV, two very important points are totally missing: First, no mention is made of that little pressure visit by the chief Rabbis of Israel, in town for the Ecumenical Concert. Connect the dots and the dates coincide perfectly with the denial. Secondly, even if, as modern Rome and its puppet media claim with a straight face, the Pope 'cannot endorse an art project' (pardon me, I'm still guffawing) - the fact is he is the guardian of Faith and Morals, or at least he should be! Considering that the content of 'The Passion of The Christ' is entirely pertaining to the Faith and has been faithfully taken from the Douay-Rheims Roman Catholic Bible and supplemented by accounts of an approved mystic in Venerable Katherine Emmerich, I would say this is not an 'art' project, but more a depiction of the True Faith - the Good News - the Gospel of Christ as written and recorded by the four Evangelists under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Sorry, folks, I don't see how that would be categorized as mere 'art'!

       No, a Pope of Tradition would enthusiastically say "it is as it was" in referring to an accurate re-enactment of the Scriptures and give his hearty endorsement to the Truths of God's Word. He would be overjoyed that such a powerful venue and so creatively crafted in the manner of the great Michelangelo and Carravaggio was being made available for the whole world. Conversions would be aplenty from this wonderful fruit. Who would not bless and heartily endorse such an achievement of the Faith?

      Answer: this Pope and this regime. For is it true that in addition to basically denying, through the stubborn compromising ecumenical agenda, the Truths and Traditions the Church has always taught from Peter through Pius XII, now modern Rome and, yes, this Pope are denying Scripture? Considering Ratzinger's statements, so well documented by Fr. Lawrence Smith in A Tale of Two Truths that is not as far-fetched as it may seem.

       Sad, but true. No, if the Vatican wants to assert its moral authority, they would do well to confirm that the Pope did say that for the sake of Faith and Morals, not 'art.' But then that would be an admission that Mel's uncompromising depiction of the last twelve hours of Christ is truly as it was. Their friends in rabbinical garb posing as Jewish descendants would not have that nor would their friends in wolves' clothing posing as shepherds for it would be to admit Traditional Catholics are right. And that is something no died-in-the-wool neo-Catholic ostrich or progressive ecumaniac wants to see: a return to the way it was. For whether they want to admit it or not, in the catacomb churches world-wide where the Latin Mass is being said much to the chagrin of the Modernists who wish the Mass of All Ages would just die (as if something Divinely Ordained could) that's exactly how the Faith is growing for nothing has changed: It - the Holy Faith and worship - is and always will be as it was! Try to deny that!!!

"It Is As It Was" -- Vatican Intrigue

by Inside the Vatican staff

The Pope and Mel Gibson's film: a review of a mystery

February 6 -- The world continues to wonder what the Pope really thinks of Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" following a bizarre series of affirmations and denials in recent weeks over the Pope's alleged comment after seeing the film in a private screening in his chambers in ealy December: "It is as it was." We at "Inside the Vatican" would like to note a couple of points and offer some background reading for those interested in the issue.

    (1) The Pope did view the film "The Passion of the Christ"
    (2) It is not clear which version of the film he viewed, since the film has been in final cutting even in the past few weeks
    (3) The Pope made no public declaration after seeing the film; that is, he issued no statement saying "This is my opinion of Mel Gibson's film 'The Passion of the Christ," and signing it "Pope John Paul II"
    (4) The Pope evidently made a private, personal comment after seeing the film; this is attested to by multiple reliable sources
    (5) That comment was not "It is as it was," since the Pope spoke in Polish, not in English
    (6) Nor was it the Italian for "it is as it was" as some have proposed (“è proprio come avvenne in realtà” = "it's precisely as it actually happened"), again because the Pope spoke in Polish
    (7) Nevertheless, "It is as it was" is probably a fair translation into English, from Italian, from Polish, of what the Pope said privately after seeing the film
    (8) The Pope's remarks, once reported and re-reported in the press and across the internet, began to be seen as something they were not; they were presented as a public papal judgement on the film which gave blanket papal approval of the film
    (9) This fact -- that the words were being seen as something they were not and, for a series of reasons, could not be -- came to the attention of important Vatican officials, and possibly to the attention of the Pope himself (10) It was decided to clarify the fact that the Pope had made no public, complete, definitive judgment on Mel Gibson's film
    (11) But the implementation of this decision, perhaps justifiable in itself, led to a series of enigmatic, sometimes conflicting and always disconcertingly confusing denials by Vatican officials, leaving the matter in unsatisfactory murkiness to the present moment
    (12) This entire incident is now being "spun" (exploited) to bring the operational competence of the present pontificate into question
    (13) The long-term impact of the incident on the way the Vatican is seen, and the papacy run, may be greater than the impact of the controversy on the reception of Mel Gibson's film, which will stand or fall on its own merits.
    --The ITV Editor

Note: An article has just been published in Italy by our old friend Sandro Magister, who writes for the popular Italian secular magazine "L'Espresso." Magister is a capable Vaticanist -- as his articles, which are posted on the web, testify. He is also sometimes of a rather "liberal" bent -- though not always. This has resulted in his acquisition of a collection of sources "inside the Vatican" slightly different from our own.

For this reason, we wanted to draw the attention of our readers to Magister's latest article, but we want readers to be aware that Magister may have his own "axe" to grind.

In essence, there are many, in Rome and throughout the world, who would like the Catholic papacy to be "weakened" in order to allow "centrifugal forces" to have their effect; that is, by weakening the papacy ("the center") the Church will become less "centralized" and this will allow each "region" of the Church to follow its own course.

The proponents of this argue that this will be a positive development because, they say, Rome is "sclerotic" and "not in tune with the times."

A depiction of a Vatican curia in disarray is thus part and parcel of the arsenal being very ably marshalled to argue at the next conclave that this current form of papacy must "yield" to "the signs of the times", that is, to a more de-centralized model -- a weaker, but, as it were, more "up-to-date", "more caring" papacy.

All these things are at stake in this flap over the Pope's reaction to the Gibson film. Here is Magister's interesting article:

Vatican Intrigues: “The Passion,” the Pope, and the Phantom Review

The preview of Mel Gibson’s film sends the curia into confusion. Dziwisz and Navarro speak, and then recant. Opus Dei plays a role as well. And two thunderbolts fall from the heavens

by Sandro Magister

[From “L’espresso” no. 6, February 6-12, 2004]

ROMA – John Paul II seems to have recovered his health a bit. But not the Vatican curia. The men closest to the pope especially have sunk deeper into confusion. The protagonists of the latest mishap are the two men who most govern the pope’s public image: Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz (see photo), his personal secretary and deputy prefect of the pontifical household, and Opus Dei numerary Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the director of the Vatican press office.

The stumbling block was Mel Gibson’s recent film on the passion of Christ. It is a film that has become the matter of international intrigue even before arriving in the theaters. Dziwisz and Navarro had the idea of bringing pope Karol Wojtyla right into the middle of the quarrel. And when they sketched out a retreat, they created a disaster. They denied, both of them, that the pope had ever made the comment that the whole world heard from these very two. But let’s proceed in order.

It was Friday evening, December 5, 2003, and in his dining room John Paul II, together with Dziwisz, watched a big-screen DVD of the first part of “The Passion.” The next day they watched the second part. And the following Monday, December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dziwisz received the four who provided the preview to the pope. They were Steve McEveety, the film’s American producer, and his wife; Jan Michelini, director’s assistant to Mel Gibson, and his father Alberto, former anchorman of Tg 1 and a Forza Italia member of parliament.

Both Michelinis are supernumeraries of Opus Dei. Jan was born, with his twin sister, in 1979, during the pope’s first visit to Poland, and upon returning to Rome it was Wojtyla himself who baptized him, the first of his pontificate. Since that time they have been very close, receiving many heavenly signs. During production, Jan Michelini was struck by lightning while was filming the crucifixion, and he was struck again on December 5, the day the pope previewed the film. On both occasions, he came away unharmed.

The conversation took place in Italian. The Michelinis translated into English for McEveety and his wife what Dziwisz related from the pope. The key phrase is the following: “It is as it was.” Eleven letters to say that the film “is just like it happened in reality.” It’s enough to signal the pope’s total endorsement of “The Passion’s” adherence to the gospels.

That Monday, December 8, Navarro also saw Mel Gibson’s film. A few days went by and, on the 16th, in the United States, “Variety” came out with the scoop: the pope had previewed the film. On the 17th, two important newspapers increased the coverage. In “The Wall Street Journal,” the most famous columnist in America, Peggy Noonan, an old-school Catholic, the author of Ronald Reagan’s most memorable speeches, made public pope Wojtyla’s phrase “It is as it was,” indicating McEveety as her first source, Dziwisz as her ultimate source, and an e-mail sent to her by Navarro as further confirmation. At the same time, in the liberal weekly “National Catholic Reporter,” Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr. reported the identical phrase of the pope, citing as his source an “anonymous Vatican authority,” to whom he also attributed the following prediction: “There will be conversions on account of this film.”

The next day, “Reuters” and the “Associated Press” assembled further confirmation from the Vatican. And for Mel Gibson’s film, it was a beatification. By mid-December, half of the Roman curia had seen the film and been enraptured by it. Even before the pope’s entry onto the field, two very influential personages had expressed extremely favorable judgments: Darío Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos (“I am ready to exchange all of my homilies on the passion of Jesus for just one scene from Mel Gibson’s film”) and the undersecretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s right hand man, the American Joseph Augustine Di Noia, a Dominican, in a long December 8 interview with the international agency “Zenit.”

Di Noia demolishes point by point the arguments of the film’s detractors. “The Passion” is not anti-Semitic, as say some, but not all, of the Jews of the Anti-Defamation League, or some of the biblical scholars of the U.S. bishops’ conference: in part because the actress who plays Mary, the Romanian Maia Morgenstern, is herself Jewish and the daughter of concentration camp survivors, but most of all because the power of the film lies in its capacity to seize and shake the viewer, every single viewer, and to make him feel, like everyone, himself a sinner responsible for the death of Jesus. Secondly, “The Passion” is not incomprehensible because the dialogue is in Aramaic or Latin: its eloquence rests entirely in the images, like the masterpieces of Michelangelo or Caravaggio, which need no translation. Thirdly, “The Passion” is not for the sentimental: it is a film of robust Catholic doctrine: “For the faithful who see it, going to Mass will never be the same.” In a word, “Th! e Passion” is a very faithful cinematic rendition of the gospel: “It is as it was.”

So what need was there to place the pope in the middle of this worldwide chorus of the film’s supporters that already counted curial prelates and bishops (the most lively being the Franciscan archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput), battle-hardened movements like Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ (the agency Zenit falls among these), neoconservative authorities of the caliber of Michael Novak or “Crisis” editor Deal Hudson, neotraditionalist pressure groups like the Institute of Christ the King and High Priest, and continental Catholic networks like the agency “Aciprensa,” which covers all of Latin America?

No; there was no need at all to bring John Paul II into the middle of this: this, at least, is what other Vatican officials think, especially in the secretariat of state. On December 24, Christmas Eve, Cindy Wooden of “Catholic News Service,” the news agency of the United States bishops’ conference, cited two anonymous prelates “close to the pope” who denied that he had made any judgment on the film.

But on January 9, John Allen of the “National Catholic Reporter” again cited his Vatican source, who confirmed that the pope had pronounced the phrase in question, adding new details. And on the 18th, in the “New York Times,” Frank Rich wrote that he had heard in English, from the “Italian translator” of the meeting between Dziwisz and McEveety, that the pope’s secretary had himself added, in commenting on the film, the adjective “incredible.”

Whom should we believe? Dziwisz, in the Vatican, had his back to the wall, and in the end he denied his own words. On January 19, he told “Catholic News Service” that “the Holy Father told no one of his opinion of the film” and that everything attributed to him “is not true.”

It was a madhouse. Jan Michelini reconfirmed his version. McEveety circulated an e-mail from Navarro telling him not to worry and to go ahead and use the pope’s fatal phrase “again and again and again.” Rod Dreher of the “Dallas Morning News” asked for further confirmation from Navarro, and he responded No, his messages to McEveety and others were never his own, they are fakes. But they all come from the same Vatican e-mail address, the same one from which the message disclaiming them was sent. On January 22, the director of the Vatican press office made an official press release: “It is the habit of the Holy Father not to express public judgments on artistic works.” But in private? One thing is certain: in public, the big lies have taken the stage.

    Note: Here is a portion of our own report on the incident in the upcoming February issue of "Inside the Vatican":


    ..Dziwisz told them, they say, that the Pope had reacted positively to the film and had used the phrase “It is as it was” (though it certainly was not “It is as it was,” because the Pope speaks in Polish, not English.) That phrase, at first quietly, then with increasing authority, began to echo around the world to become, as it were, the “definitive papal judgement” on Gibson’s film. But, for evident reasons, a phrase like that cannot be “definitive”; nor can it be “papal” (since judgements on films and all other works of art are not in the Pope’s area of competence, which is the deposit of the faith); nor can it really be characterized as a “judgment” since it is really a spontaneous reaction to a graphic, profoundly moving work of art. By mid-January, evidently, this perhaps inadvertent “mis-understanding” or “mis-use” of the Pope’s words, was becoming a problem...

  • For articles from February 5 through February 6, see Previous Countdown articles VI

  • For articles from February 2 through February 4, see Previous Countdown articles V

  • For articles from Tuesday January 27 through February 1, see Previous Countdown articles IV

  • For articles from Sunday and Monday January 25-26, see Previous Coundown articles III

  • For articles from Thursday January 22 through Saturday January 24, see Previous Countdown articles II

  • For articles from Friday, January 16 through Wednesday January 21 see Previous Countdown articles I
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    February 9, 2004
    vol 15, no. 40