Passionate Debate Over Mel Gibson's 'Passion'

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Feb. 24, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You experience the film and after that, you're going to have questions. You're going to have emotional feelings and want to get answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never really thought about the physical being of how he must have looked.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heart warming. It was overwhelming. It was very touching.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Mel Gibson's (search) movie about Jesus has Christians and non-Christians talking. The reviews and reaction aren't all good, but my next guest says you can chock some of that up to wounded egos.

Catholic League (search) President William Donohue says biblical scholars are jealous of the movie's impact on popular culture. He's here to talk about the movie.

The big question, Mr. Donohue, is "The Passion of the Christ" an important work of art?

WILLIAM DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: It certainly is. And it's also...


DONOHUE: Because the dramatization of the death of Jesus has never been done like this ever before in history. It is a faithful rendition of the gospels, despite what some of the professors are saying.

You see, they're angry because...

GIBSON: I could find these scenes in the gospels?

DONOHUE: Absolutely. The words, certainly. Maybe not the scenes. But again, in terms of the language, there is no question.

GIBSON: So the description of the injuries and the torture and the horror?

DONOHUE: Certainly there's a certain embellishment there. For example, Mel Gibson said, did Mary, the mother of Jesus, mop up the blood after the scourging? He said, "I don't know that. She could have."

So certainly there are certain rights and liberties that he's taken. But you know, the scholars, I think — the scholars don't believe in the divinity of Christ, for God's sake. They think that Jesus was an apprentice at Home Depot trying to become a carpenter, for God's sakes.

No, they lost out on this, OK? Mel Gibson doesn't owe anybody in the Catholic Church or anybody in the Protestant church one bit of respect in terms of saying you should vet your script by us.

This is a movie, it's his money, it's his interpretation. If you don't like it, go make your own.

GIBSON: Is he — now he's coming under a lot of fire. But on the other hand, we see these people coming out of the movie who seem to be very impressed by it. So how much fire is he really getting? He's won this already, hasn't he?

DONOHUE: It's all over. Mel Gibson has won. It's the triumph of Mel. And it's the defeat of the elites in this country, the movie critics, the professors, the other eggheads who don't have any religion whatsoever, who want to get the words "under God" out of the Constitution, who like the idea of Tom, Dick and Harry getting married. They've lost.

It's not a good day for them, is it? I mean, they're losing on the constitutional amendment. They're losing with Mel Gibson. The Catholic League is very, very happy today.

GIBSON: All right. Why is it the Catholic League likes the movie, likes the depiction of the last hours of Christ's life?

DONOHUE: Because it Leaves you with a sense that Jesus died for all of us, that this is a movie about love, about sacrifice, about redemption.

It's opening up on Ash Wednesday. It's a period of self-denial for Christians in a culture which celebrates the opposite of self-denial. It celebrates self-actualization.

No. This will bring all those lapsed Catholics and Protestants back to the church, more than what all the priests and ministers could do collectively.

And it is not anti-Semitic. Those people who are making that scurrilous charge are going to be the biggest losers in the end.

GIBSON: Well, before we leave that, I mean, what they're saying and, as you know, various Jewish groups are very sensitive to this, because they feel the Jews are being blamed for the death of Christ. Why aren't they?

DONOHUE: Because what you see is a mob. You don't see a Jewish mob. It is not...

GIBSON: What would it be if it weren't?

DONOHUE: Well, if it weren't — if it were and you should that this was a collective orchestration, that every Jew in the movie was going against Christ, then I could — then that could give rise to collective guilt.

I am against collective gill of Jews as well, then and now. But that's not what this movie does. There are some people — and they're not most Jews, by the way — there are some Jews and some Catholic theologians always have their eyes on my side, obviously, OK?

You have to share the bad guys you come to the Catholics, we'll tell you. They're out there, because — they're angry because Mel didn't vet this script by them. They have the intellectuals to get out of their library, join the real world, get some buttered popcorn and watch the movie.

GIBSON: All right. So what does the movie give the viewer? I mean, since it's in Latin and Aramaic, you can't understand what's being said — you certainly could tell what is happening by watching it — but what is it that these people who have seen it already are getting from this movie?

DONOHUE: A sense of their own sinfulness. A sense that, in fact, that you can't understand the crucifixion of Jesus Christ without understanding how all of us sin throughout all of time and punished Christ as a result.

So, there's a certain sense of guilt, which is justly earned when you leave the movie theater. People are almost speechless when they leave. They're not leaving with hate towards Jews or toward Romans or toward anybody.

And that's why the critics of this movie are wrong, and the people who like it have carried the day. It's all over. Mel Gibson is the hero in this whole episode.

GIBSON: Catholic League President William Donohue, thanks for being here.

DONOHUE: Thank you.

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