Pope’s reaction to Gibson film still stirs debate

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Articles about who said what to whom continue to make headlines as the debate about what the Pope actually said after he viewed The Passion of the Christ rages on in the press.

The debate began after a breaking story by National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen in December. In it, Allen reported that Pope John Paul II viewed Mel Gibson’s film in his private quarters and reacted to it saying, “It is as it was.” This statement was to mean that the film accurately portrayed the final hours of Christ’s death.

A supporting article by another columnist soon followed in The Wall Street Journal, attributing the Pope’s personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, with having communicated the Pope’s five-word reaction.

However, subsequent articles have appeared in which Vatican officials have denied that the Pope ever reacted to the film.

Allen countered these articles and defended the credibility of his initial report in one of his recent columns, in which he provided more facts about the series of events surrounding the Pope’s viewing of the film.

Despite this, Catholic and secular journalists have continued going back and forth on the issue, trying to root out what really happened.

However, Icon Productions’ executive vice-president, Alan Nierob, also jumped into the foray yesterday, after the Catholic News Service reported Jan. 19 that the Pope never said: “It is as it was.”

"Based on all previous correspondence and conversations held directly between representatives of the film and the official spokesperson for the Pope, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, there is no reason to believe that the Pope's support of the film 'isn't as it was'," said Nierob.

According to CNS, Dziwisz also said he clearly told the film’s co-producer Steve McEveety and assistant director Jan Michelini that “the Holy Father made no declaration."

Wooden quoted Dziwisz as saying: “I said the Holy Father saw the film privately in his apartment, but gave no declaration to anyone. He does not make judgments on art of this kind; he leaves that to others, to experts.”

However, the nature of the press will not allow CNS the final word. The New York Times also reported Jan. 19 that “one prominent Roman Catholic official close to the Vatican said yesterday: ‘I have reason to believe — and I think — that the pope probably said it.’

The official was quoted also as saying in the paper:  “It's all a little soap-operatic.”

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