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‘Passion’ piques Vatican

Pic likely to unspool for theological experts

ROME — The Vatican is seeking to enter the ring in the mounting controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ.”

Italian officials close to the Holy See have asked Gibson for a copy of “The Passion of Christ,” which they want to screen during a conference on theology and cinema to be held next week in Rome.

“Gibson has not fully committed yet, but we will very probably hold a closed-door screening for (theological) experts,” said Andrea Piersanti, head of the Catholic entertainment entity Ente dello Spettacolo. “This way, we will be able to form our own serene and detached opinion of the film,” added Piersanti, who is also president of Italy’s government film body, Istituto Luce.

The conference, “Christ in Film: A Cinematic Canon,” is organized by the Vatican’s social communications office, headed by American Archbishop John Foley, and by the Holy See’s culture office.

According to Italian press reports, Foley in September lavished praise on “Passion” in September and denied that Gibson’s film has an anti-Semitic message. But the Vatican has since sought to distance itself from Foley’s comment.

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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