Vatican Denies Pope Endorsed Film

(CBS/AP) Pope John Paul II never endorsed Mel Gibson’s controversial Biblical epic “The Passion of the Christ,” the pontiff’s longtime secretary told a Catholic news service.

Published reports over the past month said John Paul gave his approval of the film after a screening in his apartment in early December by saying, “It is as it was.”

The film’s producers said the quote was given to them by the papal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.

In its report Monday, the Catholic News Service quoted Dziwisz as saying, “That is not true.”

The news service, which is affiliated with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Dziwisz told the agency that the pope “does not make judgments on art of this kind; he leaves that to others, to experts.”

“Clearly, the Holy Father made no judgment of the film,” he said.

The film, on the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, is scheduled to open Feb. 25 — Ash Wednesday on the Roman Catholic calendar.

After a series of screenings in Rome, several top Vatican officials have praised the film and rejected complaints by some Jewish leaders who say the film suggests the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion.

Church officials said two screenings were held for John Paul so the ailing 83-year-old pontiff did not have to sit through the entire production.

The film’s producers said the pope’s opinion was relayed by Dziwisz, who watched with John Paul.

Dziwisz rarely speaks to the press and he did not immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press for clarification.

The Vatican press office, which usually states the official positions of the pope, has repeatedly declined to confirm or deny the alleged papal endorsement.

“This office never comments on the private activities of the pope,” Joaquin Navarro-Valls, John Paul’s official spokesman, said Tuesday.

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