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POPE-PASSION Jan-19-2004 (360 words) xxxi
Pope never commented on Gibson's 'Passion' film, says papal secretary

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II never said "It is as it was" after watching Mel Gibson's film on the passion of Jesus, said the pope's longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.

"The Holy Father told no one his opinion of this film," the archbishop told Catholic News Service Jan. 18.

Archbishop Dziwisz watched the film in the pope's apartment with Pope John Paul and with the pope's second secretary in early December.

The film, "The Passion of the Christ," is Gibson's interpretation of the last 12 hours of Christ's life and is set for release in the United States Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday.

The alleged papal quote has appeared in hundreds of newspapers around the world as an unequivocal endorsement of Gibson's controversial film even though papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls refused to confirm the pope said it.

The film drew widespread attention even before it was finished, particularly because of concerns over how it would portray the Jews and its potential for promoting anti-Semitism.

The co-producer of the film, Steve McEveety, was in Rome in early December to host private screenings of a rough cut of the film for Vatican and other Catholic officials.

After the pope and Archbishop Dziwisz watched the film, the archbishop met with McEveety and with Jan Michelini, an assistant director of the film.

According to published reports, McEveety and Michelini said Archbishop Dziwisz told them the pope reacted positively to the film and said, "It is as it was."

But, Archbishop Dziwisz told CNS, "That is not true."

"I said clearly to McEveety and Michelini that the Holy Father made no declaration," the archbishop said.

"I said the Holy Father saw the film privately in his apartment, but gave no declaration to anyone," he said. "He does not make judgments on art of this kind; he leaves that to others, to experts."

"Clearly, the Holy Father made no judgment of the film," he said.

News stories containing the alleged papal quote have been posted on the official Web site of the film: www.thepassionofthechrist.com.

END


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