Gibson delays ‘Passion’ Vatican viewing

Thesp still editing controversial pic

ROME — Mel Gibson has decided that Vatican prelates and Catholic theologians hoping for a sneak preview of “The Passion of Christ” must wait.

Ending almost a month of negotiations to set up a screening of “Passion” during a closed-door Vatican confab in Rome called “Christ in Film: A Cinematic Canon,” the London office of Icon has replied: not yet.

Officials close to the Holy See had been trying to organize the screening, eager to weigh in on the mounting controversy surrounding Gibson’s depiction of the last hours in the life of Jesus Christ.

“We got an email from Nick Hill (CEO of Icon Films U.K.) saying that Gibson is still editing and wants to trim some of the more violent scenes,” said Andrea Piersanti, head of Catholic entertainment entity Ente dello Spettacolo.

But Piersanti, who is also chief of Italian state film outfit Istituto Luce, added he was confident that “Passion” would soon screen at the Vatican.

The Vatican’s seal of approval is all the more important since Italy’s Eagle Pictures on Tuesday announced it will distribute the film in Italy. “Passion” will go out in the U.S. via Newmarket through a rent-a-system deal; Icon will release it in the U.K. and Australia.

Gibson shot the $25 million pic in Italy and — besides the lead role played by James Caviezel — cast Italian actors in all supporting roles, including Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene, Sergio Rubini as Dismas the Good Thief and Rosalinda Celentano as Satan.

“We are hoping to organize a screening at the Vatican in coming weeks,” Eagle Pictures topper Stefano Dammicco said.

In September, American Archbishop John Foley, who heads the Vatican’s social communications office, lavished praise on “Passion,” claiming he had seen some clips and denied that Gibson’s film conveys an anti-Semitic message.

But the Vatican has since distanced itself from favorable comments made about the film by Foley and other high-ranking Catholic prelates.

Gibson is a member of an ultraconservative Catholic movement that does not recognize the pope’s authority over the Roman Catholic Church.

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