Forgiving Mel Gibson

Editor's Note: Father Jonathan will appear on "The O'Reilly Factor" today at 8pm ET to discuss the situation surrounding Mel Gibson.

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August 2, 2006

Perspective is important, particularly when celebrities are involved. That is why I have let a few days pass before getting out my pen. I was determined not to let my friendship with Mel distort my opinion of what happened last Friday and what it might mean.

Mel Gibson’s early morning arrest for suspected DUI, accompanied by his verbal tirade, has created quite the buzz for Hollywood reporters — and rightly so. Mel himself has called his drunken comments vitriolic and despicable, a shame to himself and to his family, and contrary to his faith. Newsworthy, I would say.

But let’s remember what “buzz” is. It’s viral-like gossip about what might be. In this case, the buzz in the newspapers, television, and particularly on the web has turned from what might have happened (Mel was quick to confirm the reports), to what the incident might mean.

Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, was keen to push the envelope in these suppositions.

“His tirade finally reveals his true self and shows that his protestations during the debate over his film 'The Passion of the Christ,' that he is such a tolerant, loving person, were a sham. This confirms what all of us knew before, Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite and a bigot.”

Big words.

For over a year, I worked with Mel and his team during the filming, post-production, and marketing of "The Passion of the Christ." I sat with him in his on-set trailer, reviewed clips with him in the studio, discussed the script with him over the phone and in his Santa Monica offices, and planned pre-screenings of the movie for critics and opinion-makers all over Europe.

Now, Mel and I don’t agree on everything, not even about some aspects of theology. His traditionalist view of Catholicism is different than mine. Because of our differences, I was careful to get a few things straight before agreeing to work on "The Passion." I wanted to hear directly from him about his opinion of the Jews, in particular whether they could be blamed collectively — as a race or religion — for the killing of Jesus. Aware also of the accusations in the media regarding his apparent denial or minimalization of the Holocaust, I was intent on setting straight this part of his record.

Mel’s response to both of my inquiries over an extended period of time, in word and in action, was unequivocal. I knew then, as I know now, Mel is not an anti-Semite.

Also big words.

I speak confidently and unambiguously, because my experience in working on "The Passion" taught me something else about Mel. While some people are willing to put on facades and give a good “spin” to save face and a career, Mel Gibson cannot. He is painfully honest and incapable of writing or approving a public relations piece in which he does not believe whole-heartedly.

I saw this scrupulous conscious at work in his response to every false accusation of bigotry leveled at him in the months preceding the release of "The Passion." Many people wanted him to make sweeping public statements about religion, theology, and history — just to make sure he wasn’t a bigot. Instead, he focused his attention on producing a film about the greatest love story of all time, free from bigotry and in no way anti-Semitic. The world saw for itself a reflection of Mel’s soul.

On Monday Mel wrote a letter to the Jewish community. He requested forgiveness and asked Jewish community leaders for help in working toward long-term reconciliation. Much to his credit, Abraham Foxman responded graciously.

I was impressed.

Yesterday, on FOX News Radio with Spencer Hughes, I applauded Mr. Foxman for his nobility in having accepted Mel’s apology. Today, however, I was surprised to see Mr. Foxman’s op-ed in the New York Post which calls into question Mel’s sincerity:

"I'm still skeptical because these are still words from his handlers — the same people who brought you the first statement that didn't acknowledge his anti-Semitism. I'd like to hear from the man himself. These words are still from his handlers — Mel Gibson's words in the police blotter, we know those are from him."

If Mr. Foxman thinks Mel’s handlers wrote and distributed the statement without Mel’s full consent, he doesn’t know Mel Gibson. To ask for yet another apology is out of place and, in my opinion, reflects badly on the organization Mr. Foxman represents.

Mel’s deplorable comments came from somewhere. In his inebriated state, he revealed what was on his mind in a given moment. Together with Mel, I condemn his statements about Jewish people and say they are not true. But I praise him for what is on his mind now, in cold and reflective sobriety, as expressed in his first apology and his subsequent letter to the Jewish community.

Now is a time for forgiveness. Mel has asked for it. We should give it.

God bless, Father Jonathan

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