Last Friday, in his usual "Word from Rome" column of Vatican news and gossip, the National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent, John Allen, confirmed the Pope’s positive reaction to Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of Christ.”
In his Jan. 9 column, Allen responded to recent controversy and contradictory reports in the press about the Pope’s reaction to the film.
In a breaking news piece on the NCR Web site Dec. 17, Allen reported that Pope John Paul II watched the movie in his private chambers. Citing an unnamed senior Vatican official, Allen reported that the Pope reacted to the film with the statement, "It is as it was,” meaning that the Pope believes the film is an accurate depiction of the last 12 hours of Christ's life.
Moments later, The Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan posted her own story in which she too quoted the Pope with the same words. She, however, cited the Pope's private aide, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, as the source, as relayed to her through the movie's producer Steve McEveety.
While the story and the Pope's quote was picked up by major news agencies, other reports were published, also quoting Vatican officials, saying that the Pope never said, “It is as it was.”
“In the wake of all this,” wrote Allen Jan. 9, “I went back to the original source of my report, a well-placed Vatican official who is normally a reliable guide to the Pope's mind.
“The official,” wrote Allen, “is adamant that the original story was right – the Pope did indeed say, ‘It is as it was.’”
Allen also included a few of the extra details his source provided about the Pope’s private viewing: The Pope watched the film in two segments, over the evenings of Dec. 5 and Dec. 6, with his secretary, Dziwisz. The two men watched the film, by themselves, in the Pope's private dining room that has a large-screen television and a VCR.
“The next day, Dziwisz had a conversation with McEveety and the film's assistant director, Jan Michelini, in which he relayed John Paul's reaction, which this source said was accurately quoted in NCR and The Wall Street Journal,” wrote Allen.