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The Passion of The Christ

Mel Gibson

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Controversy: Traditionalist Catholicism
Another controversy, less often discussed, is that Mel Gibson is a follower of 'traditionalist Catholicism' - an ultra-conservative sect of Catholicism:

What sets traditionalist Catholics apart to the average lay person is that they celebrate Mass in Latin and believe that no other language should be used during the church service.

Nationwide, the number of traditionalist Latin Mass sites has grown to 524, up 100 from almost a decade ago, according to the National Registry of Latin Masses.

Traditionalist Catholicism was born as a reaction to the landmark Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, when the Roman Catholic Church attempted to make the religion more accessible. For example, Catholic leaders said Mass can be celebrated in any language of the people; women can perform some liturgical duties; and celebrants can receive the Eucharist sacrament from lay people instead of priests. Traditionalists object to all of those changes.
[...] Most of the traditionalist splinter groups around the world are not welcomed by the Roman Catholic Church because of their hard-line views.

[T]he movement is popular in pockets of the Bay Area, especially with old-time San Jose Catholics and new immigrants in the Latino, Filipino and Vietnamese communities, said the Rev. Daniel Cooper, head priest of the St. Aloysius retreat. In addition to the Los Gatos center, where 300 worshipers attend on any given Sunday, Cooper said there are a handful of unsanctioned Latin Mass services in the South Bay, Sacramento and Stockton.

Traditionalist Catholicism is most active in the Midwest's Bible Belt.

It's not surprising, experts say, that fundamentalism of any kind exists in the most liberal region of the country.

``It's precisely because they're in the belly of the beast that they want to solidify,'' said William Dinges, a Catholic University of America professor and the nation's expert on Roman Catholic traditionalists.

``The West is the most unchurched part of the country, a fertile mecca for sex cults and New Ageism, as they see it. They want a world where things aren't wishy-washy, where things are either right or wrong.'

Out of 63 million Roman Catholics nationwide, conservative Christian groups estimate there may be about 15 million traditionalists.

In the traditionalist Catholic world, there are no shades of gray in the issues of abortion and contraception, and women can't perform liturgical duties. Believing in purgatory is a must. Eating meat on Fridays is forbidden. Women must wear head coverings in church. Strumming a guitar at church or a pastor entertaining the parish with jokes are seen as silly if not sacrilegious.

Also, traditionalists don't believe in reaching out to other Christian faiths and are angry the Second Vatican Council changed its official opinion of non-Catholics from ``heretics'' to recognizing them as ``separate brethren.''

``The pope is infected with modernism,'' complained Eileen Allen, 45, of Oregon who recently attended a women's workshop at the Los Gatos retreat. ``By that I mean ecumenism, that all religions are equal to the Catholic Church. That's not true. The Catholic Church is the one that Christ founded. Other denominations are man-made.''

Although the convictions about abortion, Communion and purgatory are still the official positions of the Roman Catholic Church, the majority of mainstream Catholics hold somewhat more progressive views, scholars say. Also, Dinges said a key difference is that traditionalists often want to ``cast out'' anyone who doesn't take these religious rules literally.

``They are angry that the bishops and the church authority haven't taken a harder line on dissenting Catholics,'' Dinges said. ``The great irony though, is that they are bucking papal authority. They are holding themselves up as self-appointed watchdogs of Catholic orthodoxy and are in open conflict with the Vatican.''
Source: Small but growing number of Catholics returns to rigid rules, Latin masses BY Lisa Fernandez, Knight Ridder Newspapers

The actor's father, Hutton Gibson, is a member of the traditionalist Catholic movement, which operates outside the Roman Catholic Church and embraces a 16th-century form of the religion that celebrates Tridentine (Latin) Mass and denies the legitimacy of all popes and church reforms since the start of the second Vatican Council, 1962-65. (That council, among other things, eliminated the belief that Jews, collectively, were responsible for the death of Jesus, and directed the church to seek reconciliation.)

The younger Gibson's church, which will not be open to the public, is reportedly also a traditionalist Catholic house of worship. (It is not affiliated with the archdiocese of Los Angeles.) According to tax and other public documents, Mel Gibson is president and CEO of the non-profit foundation that funds the church, and he is the foundation's sole contributor.
Source: Critics jittery over Mel's Passion, by Bettijane Levine, Los Angeles Times, via The Age (Australia)

Gibson's ultra-conservative Catholicism brings up questions regarding his view on salvation:

We talked of the nature of Gibson's faith, and I asked him about an aspect of Vatican II which has not been much discussed in the debate over his film. One of the council's most significant acts was its Decree on Ecumenism, which declared that all Christians, even those outside the Catholic Church, "have the right to be called Christian; the children of the Catholic Church accept them as brothers." This effectively overturned the Catholic notion that the only true course to salvation was through the Catholic Church.

I told Gibson that I am a Protestant, and asked whether his pre-Vatican II world view disqualified me from eternal salvation. He paused. "There is no salvation for those outside the Church," he said. "I believe it." He explained, "Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's just not fair if she doesn't make it, she's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it."
Source: The Jesus War, by Peter J. Boyer, The New Yorker, September 15, 2003. Posted at freerepublic.com

Things could not be more clearly articulated - both Gibsonís going with the Chair and his innate discomfort with the Chairís teaching, maybe even with God, if his wife is not saved. It is too bad that he rejects the Second Vatican Council, for it rejected Pius XIIís identification of the Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church8 and taught clearly for the first time in Catholic history that many of the significant elements and endowments which ďbuild and give life to the Church itself can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit.Ē And all of these ďare capable of giving access to that communion in which is salvation."9 Traditionalist Catholics believe only Catholics go to heaven (without every considering where that leaves Jesus the Jew); the contemporary Catholic Church believes, on the basis of what it considers the revelation of God, that God saves whom God saves. It is here that the core of the opposition to Gibsonís film is founded.

In summary, then, what can be said about sectarian Catholicism, Mel Gibson, and The Passion of the Christ? Sectarian Catholicism is rooted in the sixteenth-century Council of Trent and rejects absolutely the twentieth-century Second Vatican Council as an unwarranted betrayal of that root. It is an exclusive sect, blessing its members with the promise of salvation, cursing non-members with the promise of damnation. The sect regards itself as the remnant of the one, true, Catholic Church established by Jesus on Peter the Rock, whose Roman sedia has been vacant since the death of Pius XII. That one true Church has complete control over the sacred scriptures, to the extent that it and it alone can declare which version of the biblical text is inspired and which is not inspired and that it and it alone can asserting the indubitable meaning of any biblical text. As a self-confessed and publicly active traditionalist Catholic, Mel Gibson must share these beliefs, which are not now Catholic beliefs. Have his beliefs affected his visual passion play? It is difficult to see how they could not affect it and, at least, fears have been raised that they truly have had an effect on his images. Whether they have, in fact, must be a future judgment when we see which of the many cuts of the film is finally released for public and critical viewing.
Source: Sectarian Catholicism and Mel Gibson, by By Michael G. Lawler, Creighton University, Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 8 Special Issue No. 1, February 2004

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• Subject: The Passion of The Christ
• First posted: Jan. 30, 2004
• Last Updated: Feb. 25, 2004
• Editor: Anton Hein
• Copyright: Apologetics Index

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