Trying to put an end to the controversy sparked over whether or not John Paul II said “it is as it was” regarding Mel Gibson's film “Passion of the Christ,” the Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls issued a statement confirming the Pope's comments were not intended to become “official.”
“After consultation with the Holy Father's personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, I can confirm that the Pope has had the opportunity to see the film, ‘The Passion of the Christ’,” the statement says.
The press release describes positively the film as “the cinematographic recounting of the historical fact of the passion of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel accounts.”
The description is not irrelevant, since one of the bones of contention for some Biblical scholars -like Boston University's Paula Fredriksen- has been Gibson's accuracy in portraying the historical facts of the crucifixion.
The statement says that “it is the Holy Father's custom not to express public judgments on artistic works, judgments which are always open to diverse evaluations of an aesthetic nature.”
In other words, the statement does not deny the Pontiff said “it is as it was,” but explains that, if those words were pronounced, they were not intended to become public.
According to a new release from the Catholic monthly “Inside the Vatican,” the statement, “in our view, has a double purpose: it seems to respond to evident pressure to distance John Paul from any direct connection with the upcoming film, while still giving guarded support to the film.”
“The statement,” Inside the Vatican continues, “makes clear its main message that the Pope does not make public judgments about ‘works of art’ (evidently because, being of an "esthetic," and not a moral or doctrinal, nature, works of art, like films, are outside, as it were, the Pope's competence).”
“But the statement does not reverse the Vatican position, expressed repeatedly in recent months -- notably by Archbishop John Foley, head of the Vatican office for Social Communications, Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, head of the office which oversees all Catholic priests in the world, and Monsignor Augustine Di Noia, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith . that the film is deeply moving, worth seeing for all people, and not anti-Semitic.”