Mel Gibson's Insensitivity (At Best) About the Holocaust

Roundup: Media's Take

Tim Rutten, writing in the LAT (Feb. 4, 2004):

[Mel] Gibson has allowed himself to be characterized as a Catholic and has reinforced that impression by seeking the Vatican's approval of his film and then publicizing a purported papal endorsement. Reams of sympathetic publicity continue to describe Gibson as "a devout Catholic."

In fact, he is not. Catholics belong to churches that recognize the pope as their religious leader. If you don't, you're not a Catholic. It's as simple as that. What Gibson would rather not discuss is his membership in a schismatic group that has appropriated various pious practices and sacramental rites from preconciliar Roman Catholicism, but which rejects the contemporary church's leaders and teachings. Among the most important of those teachings is a complete rejection of any interpretation of the Passion that attributes a particular or continuing responsibility for Christ's execution to the Jewish people.

Because Gibson attends -- indeed, finances -- a church that rejects such teachings, other questions arise: For instance, in an interview with commentator Peggy Noonan to be published in the forthcoming Reader's Digest, Gibson says, "My dad taught me my faith, and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life."

Fair enough, but Hutton Gibson -- the filmmaker's father -- is a well-known Holocaust denier.

Reader's Digest declined to make a full text of the interview available to The Times, but in the brief promotional excerpt released this week, Noonan is quoted as asking, "You're going to have to go on the record. The Holocaust happened, right?"

Gibson replied, "Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, responded that "reading this, I have to conclude that, at best, Mr. Gibson is ignorant and, at worse, he is insensitive. War was not the cause of the Holocaust; Jews died because of who they were. The Holocaust is different in kind from other historical tragedies because it's about people being slaughtered for who they were. Comparing it to the famine in the Ukraine, which was terrible, is nonetheless ignorant and insensitive."

Foxman also said he was "troubled by the cavalier way in which he treats the question of his father's influence. I respect people who respect their elders. But Mr. Gibson says his father never lied to him and yet he has been lying for years to the world about the Holocaust. Saying everything his father said is true puts him in a very strange position, since his father is a public Holocaust denier."

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