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'The Passion of The Christ' Gets Mixed Reaction in German Speaking Europe

By Wolfgang Polzer
Assist News Service OBERLIN / VIENNA (ANS) -- Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ has evoked mixed reactions among church leaders in German speaking Europe. While some bishops who saw previews are stunned, others are critical of the amount of violence. The movie -- already a blockbuster in the USA -- will be shown in German and Austrian theaters from March 18.

Bishop Wolfgang Huber of Berlin, leader of the main line Protestant Churches in Germany, describes the R-rated movie as both powerful and violent. While the suffering of Jesus should never be minimized it was also problematic to maximize the amount of cruelty already shown in the media. This could only end in a spiral of cruelty, said Huber in the light of the terrorist attacks in Madrid.

Huber's deputy, the Thuringian Bishop Christoph Kaehler, is impressed with the "mighty movie". He was not shocked but awe-struck Kaehler told Christian newspapers. While he would not recommend the movie to young people he had not observed one scene that glorified violence.

Kaehler also rejected allegations that Gibson's movie is anti-Semitic, because - as some Jewish observers see it -- it blames the Jews for Jesus' death. In the Bishop's eyes the movie compares well with works of composer Johann Sebastian Bach or painter Lukas Cranach.

The Protestant Church in Austria rejects the movie completely. Bishop Herwig Sturm of Vienna: "This movie shows no mercy in its depiction of Christ's suffering. Neither does it show compassion for the audience." The Lutheran church officer Michael Buenker and his reformed counterpart Peter Karner condemn what they see as a "sado-masochistic glorification of violence".

The German Catholic Bishops were also mildly critical of the violence in the movie. In their eyes it falls short of the biblical message. The Vatican's spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls rejected the allegation of anti-Semitism. If the movie was anti-Semitic then so are the Gospels. The President of the Papal Media Council, John Foley, could not detect the slightest hint of anti-Semitism.

The former vice-president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Michel Friedman, warns that the movie may damage Christian-Jewish relations. It was a relapse into the Middle Ages, said the attorney who made headlines last year with his involvement in a drug and prostitution scandal.

Wolfgang Polzer (53), is senior news editor of the Evangelical News Agency idea, Wetzlar (Germany), which he joined in 1981. His previous work included four years in the editorial department of the Salvation Army in Germany. In all, he has spent 27 years in Christian media. Wolfgang became a Christian at age 25, having gone through a deep personal crisis. He is married to Ute; they have two children: Julia (20) and Jan (19). He can be contacted by e-mail at:

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