The final version of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" now in theaters repeats all of the stereotypes and images surrounding the death of Jesus that have generated anti-Semitism for 2,000 years. We had hoped that Mel Gibson would hear our concerns and make changes; sadly, the epiphany did not happen. Instead of listening to our concerns about the history of the charge of deicide being used to foment anti-Semitism through the centuries, Mr. Gibson attacked his critics and refused to listen to the concerns of Christians and Jews.
All we have asked for the past 11 months is for Mr. Gibson to understand our concerns. Our request that he add a postscript to the film, or to make other changes to help sensitize his viewers, was not so outlandish, for another director in history, when filming his version of the Passion, listened to our concerns and did just that. In 1928, Cecil B. DeMille decided to revise his film "The King of Kings" after hearing concerns from Jews, Catholics and others. Additionally, Mr. DeMille added a forward to his film in which he explained that the Jews, then and now, should not be held responsible for the death of Jesus.
Unfortunately, Mr. Gibson's film represents a setback to more than 40 years of Jewish-Christian relations. Yet as problematic as the film is, its negative consequences can be contained. The last 40 years of Church teaching has eroded the base of anti-Semitic thinking among many Christians. We are heartened that since the controversy began, some Christian leaders, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Ecumenical and Evangelical Protestant leaders, have stood up for the new Church teachings about Jews. It is critical that in the weeks and months ahead, many more Christians stand up against the demonizing of Jews that has led to tragic anti-Semitism.
We are greatly concerned about how this film will be received by the public in countries in Europe, South America and the Middle East that will not have had the benefit of the discussion, debate and sensitivity that has taken place in this country surrounding Mr. Gibson's film.