LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Mel Gibson, breaking his silence on his controversial film depicting the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ,
denied on Friday that his movie was anti-Semitic and insisted the film is "meant to inspire, not offend."
Gibson's comments were contained in a statement announcing that the Roman Catholic Church has agreed to help his production company, Icon, retrieve
copies of an early draft of the movie script that Icon says was obtained without permission by a "deep throat" working for an ad-hoc group of
Catholic and Jewish scholars.
Jewish leaders in particular have raised concerns that the movie, titled "The Passion," might portray Jews as collectively guilty for Christ's
Catholics have expressed worries that Gibson might use the film to challenge church teachings.
Their concerns were sparked by a New York Times Magazine article portraying Gibson as a traditionalist Catholic opposed to reforms of the Vatican II
Council of the 1960s, which among other things rejected the belief that Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.
Gibson previously has said little about his movie, which was shot in Italy and contains dialogue only in Latin and Aramaic with no English subtitles.
Gibson directed and co-wrote the film, which does not yet have a distributor.
In his first public comments about the film since the controversy began, Gibson said, "neither I nor my film are anti-Semitic ... Nor do I hate
anybody -- certainly not the Jews. They are my friends and associates, both in my work and social life ... Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my
personal beliefs, it is also contrary to the core message of my movie."
He added that the film is "meant to inspire, not offend. ... For those concerned about the content of this film, know that it conforms to the
narratives of Christ's passion and death found in the four Gospels of the New Testament."
The film's producer, Steve McEveety, said that while critics have a right to their opinion, "no one has a right to publicly critique a film that has
not even been completed, let alone base their critique on an outdated version of the script which has been illegally obtained."
Icon said it learned in late March that a draft of the script "was taken by an individual referred to as "our Deep Throat" and surreptitiously
circulated without permission to members of the interfaith scholars group.
The bishops conference has disavowed any involvement in obtaining the script or in preparing a confidential report on its review by the scholars
But Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement apologizing for "this situation" and advising the
scholars group that the draft screenplay is "not considered to be representative of the film and should not the be the subject of further public
A spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League acknowledged that its director of interfaith affairs, Rabbi Eugene Corn, was a member of the ad-hoc
group, but she denied knowing how the group obtained the script. She said ADL officials have asked Icon to review the film with them in advance.