Catholics are enjoined by their spiritual leaders to suffer for their sins, and one suspects the latter might be getting ready for a double helping as the fall-out from Mel “Hitler” Gibson’s weekend arrest continues.

Those who went in to bat for The Passion Of the Christ two years ago are nervously checking their clipping files for anything they may have written about its “redemptive moral character”, “don’t believe the rumours”, “director not crazy drunk” etc.

There are mixed results: Christopher Pearson praised the film’s ability to embody the numinous – hey, who didn’t – while on the other hand, it hurts me to acknowledge, Andrew Bolt thought it was anti-Semitic from the start.

The Vatican’s man at News Limited, Divine Frank Devine, waded in on the film’s behalf in 2004 when the attacks began in New York. Those perfidious New Yorkers: “The manufactured raging against the movie has created worse possibilities of conflict between Christians and Jews than the movie itself.” (Australian, 30 January 2004.)

The film’s subsequent success gave him a personal interest. “Sometimes, especially if I am going out to lunch that day, I check the Hollywood Reporter to see how Mel Gibson’s movie is faring in order to deride those who expressed little faith in it.” (Quadrant, June 2004.) Not What Women Want, presumably.

But surely the point was debatable, right? Wrong. “I believe the [Catholic] Weekly did a disservice to its readers by publishing comment on The Passion of the Christ, purporting to be reviews, by two officials of the Australian Catholic Film Office.” (Catholic Weekly 21 March 2004)

Last month he decried that “an astoundingly venomous campaign against it, on the specious grounds that it was anti-Semitic, turned The Passion into a $US600million blockbuster.”

And what was the origin of the specious? The New York Times, which “clawed” at the film-maker, “perverting journalism and turning it to propaganda” keeping “the cauldron boiling with copious reporting of the onslaught”. Claws, perversion and boiling cauldrons in the persecution of honest Christians. Hmmmmm.

Of course, The Passion isn’t as anti-Semitic as Gibson’s remarks. But it did recycle the old idea of Jewish persecution of Christ – and therefore damnation – that was only finally removed from Catholic dogma around the time of John XXIII’s Vatican II – also round the time that the wilful negligence of Pius XII in combating the Holocaust became clear.

And if there’s two things a traditional Catholic like Devine (and Gibson) wants, it’s to reverse every reform made by Vatican II, and to see the beatified Pius XII, il pape di ratlines, achieve full sainthood.

In which light, what are we to make of Devine’s description of Mel Gibson’s father, Hutton – who says there was no Holocaust because all the Jews moved to Brooklyn (that’s in New York) – as “eccentric”?

Peter Fray

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