VATICAN CITY (AP) – A Jewish leader met with Vatican officials this week to ask them to restate church teachings on the Crucifixion, saying Mel Gibson’s new film contradicts the church’s position that the Jews as a people were not responsible for Jesus’ death.
A top Vatican official who met with Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Wednesday that no such statement was planned. U.S. Archbishop John P. Foley, who heads the Vatican’s social communications office, again praised the film, “The Passion of the Christ,” and said he found nothing anti-Semitic in it.
Foxman’s visit to the Vatican came as debate over Gibson’s depiction of the violent final hours of Christ’s life intensified ahead of the film’s planned U.S. release Feb. 25. Jewish groups have said the film could fuel anti-Semitism; the Vatican has called it a recounting of the “historical fact of the passion of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel accounts.”
Foxman told a news conference Wednesday in Rome that the Roman Catholic Church had a responsibility to set the record straight on its own teachings about Christ’s Passion, since many people who see the film may think it reflects official church teaching.
Foxman said that in his view, the film contradicts the church’s landmark 1965 document “Nostra Aetate,” Latin for “In Our Time,” in which the Vatican deplored anti-Semitism in every form and repudiated the “deicide” charge that blamed Jews as a people for Christ’s Crucifixion.
Foxman said Gibson’s film depicted the Jews as “blood-thirsty” villains who forced the Romans into Christ’s Crucifixion.
“His film is an attack on Christian teaching. It is a revision, if you will, of ‘Nostra Aetate,”’ Foxman said.
He called for the Vatican to ask bishops’ conferences around the world to restate church teachings on the Crucifixion.
Foxman met this week with Foley as well as the Rev. Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the Vatican’s commission for religious relations with Jews.
Foley said he had told Foxman that he had found nothing in the film that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. “Certainly there are some Jews who call for punishment for Jesus,” Foley said. But he said the Romans too were depicted harshly.
“I had absolutely no thought regarding any responsibility on the part of the Jews,” Foley said. “I took it as a meditation on the Passion of Jesus, and my own responsibility and the responsibility of all of us for the suffering and death of Jesus.”
The Vatican has found itself in an awkward spot in the weeks leading up to the film’s debut. Last month, it took the unusual step of officially clarifying whether the pope had endorsed the film, saying the pontiff never makes judgments on artistic works.
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