Gibson's Film Stirs Passions in German-Speaking Areas

A Range of Responses to Movie About Christ’s Suffering

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BERLIN, MAY 13, 2004 ( Mel Gibson’s movie «The Passion of the Christ» has faced a passionate, and varied, reception in German-speaking lands.

The film was criticized in a joint statement from the Central Jewish Council in Germany, the Catholic bishops’ conference and the Protestant leadership in Germany in March.

«We find the extent of brutal scenes of violence extremely upsetting,» the statement said. It exceeds «for many people the limit of tolerable experiences.»

The performance involves «a certain danger that anti-Semitic prejudices are revived,» it added.

Yet, the movie had its defenders too.
<br> Bishop Walter Mixa of Eichstaett admitted that he was «deeply moved» by the realistic display of the cruelty Jesus faced during his passion and death. He asked whether the suffering and death of Christ might not be compared with the cruelties seen in Kosovo and in the Holy Land today.

«The reality of the events was brutal,» said Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg. The movie was «a moving contribution to the understanding of Christ’s passion. The brutality displayed at some points indicates what people are capable of in their darkest qualities.»

The Swiss Protestant Alliance considers the movie neither to be glorifying violence nor to be anti-Semitic. The film takes the viewer closer to the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth than one wants to permit, the group said in a statement.

Still, the Swiss Protestant Church Union and the information office of the Swiss Catholic bishops’ episcopal conference said in a joint press release that «to reduce the idea of Christ to the image of the suffering Christ was problematic from a theological point of view.»

The positive effect of the display of violence, they added, was that it created awareness of «the cross neither being a symbol … nor in any case a piece of decoration or jewelry, but an instrument for torture and killing. This education serves well.»

Auxiliary Bishop Helmut Krätzl of Vienna said: «Whoever is inspired by Vatican II will hardly know what to make of Gibson’s movie.»

The film was «not suitable for bringing people in contact with the Christian faith,» said the Austrian prelate.

It distorted the Christian-Jewish idea of God, he contended. Jesus is «portrayed in a very reduced way,» that is, only as suffering. According to Bishop Krätzl: «We as the Church should feel no imperative to be waiting for such a film.»

Viennese pastoral theologian Paul Zulehner said that the film showed foremost «the incredible dimension of violence people are capable of.»

The film teaches «that no one is uninvolved — not the religious officials, not the executioners of the occupying forces, not the politicians, like the liberal Pilate, who despite washing his hands of it becomes implicated in the events. Maybe not even I myself,» Zulehner said.

Jósef Niewiadomski, professor for dogmatic theology in Innsbruck, thought that the movie was not anti-Semitic.

He said that a «very strong image against anti-Semitism» was the scene when Simon and Jesus together carry the cross and are harassed by the Romans.

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