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Wednesday, August 13, 2003
OF PASSION AND PREJUDICE [ Pete Vere ] 23 Comment(s)
Ethnic and religious stereotypes and why Mel Gibson's new movie concerns me...
8/13/2003 12:40:42 PM

Initially, I was going to avoid this debate now making the rounds through St. Blog Parish. Yet because of the numerous requests from our readers, (not to mention the fact I still have half an hour left on my lunch-break), I decided to weigh in after all. Yet I am still hesitant to do so since most of my fellow Envoy Encore blogmates seem to favor the movie. That being said, here are my concerns about Mel Gibsonís movie on Our Lordís passion...

Mel Gibson is a staunch traditionalist, and if I understand correctly, not of the legitimate Ecclesia Dei persuasion. Additionally, the Western World does not share the most exemplary past when it comes to the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. Recent events show that even two-thousand years after the death and resurrection of Our Lord, old prejudices remain deeply rooted in our society. Therefore, we must remain vigilant and guard ourselves against the promotion of prejudiced stereotypes. And given what various sources have stated about the movie, I believe that the risk is real; The Passion could very well promote these negative stereotypes about a certain minority ethnic and religious community.

Of course, I apeak about Mel Gibsonís reported portrayal of Pontius Pilate -- the Roman authority under whom Christ was crucified. I am a licensed canonist, meaning a practitioner of the law within the Catholic Churchís internal legal system. Canon Law grew out of the noble tradition of Roman jurisprudence. I am also a Catholic of direct Roman-Italian lineage. Before coming to Canada, my paternal grandfatherís family made their home just outside of Rome for countless generations.

With this in mind, it concerns me deeply how the secular media and our North American culture often negatively stereotype individual Romans in positions of authority. How often do we see Roman authority figures presented as compromising politicians who are willing to sacrifice the innocent to further their grasp on power? How often are Roman authorities accused of promoting a reactionary agenda insensitive to the needs and well-being of the innocents subject to their control? Has this negative stereotype not been prominent in the secular media over the past year in reporting sexual misconduct among Catholic clergy?

One need only recall Governor Keatingís comparison of certain Catholic bishops to the mafia to understand my concern as a North American of Roman heritage. And the secular mediaís constant use of an analogy to Pontius Pilate, namely, that Rome and the bishops "washed their hands" of this affair, leaves me no less reassured. Need I mention the Democrats continued stonewalling of President Bushís judicial nominations friendly to Rome? Asked about the source of their paranoia, how often do we hear negative references to producing another Judge Antonin Scalia Ė Americaís highest ranking jurist of Italian decent?

Yes, America has a long history of harboring anti-Catholic suspicions and of fostering prejudiced stereotypes of Rome as a foreign power. Additionally, certain strands of the Traditionalist movement, to which Mel's father is well-known proponent, harbor strong anti-Roman sentiment as well. Perhaps this is not well-understood by William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights who is a Catholic and who has publicly defended the movie. Other Catholics such as my fellow blogmates at Envoy Encore fall into this same category. These other Catholics, however, as American Republicans they harbor their own prejudices through which they approach this movie. They may be faithful Catholics, but they do not possess academic credentials in canon law. Therefore, they cannot appreciate the subtleties of this sacred science, its great debt to Roman jurisprudence, and the various intricacies surrounding the traditional Roman principles of good governance.

On a concluding note, I wish to make it clear that I am not alleging either Mr. Gibson or this movie is guilty of anti-Romanism. Nevertheless, based upon previous portrayals of the Passion play in America as it concerns Pontius Pilate, and keeping in mind the more common prejudices and stereotypes one finds in America against those of my cultural and religious minority, Mel Gibsonís The Passion could very well lead to a renewed outbreak of anti-Roman sentiment and action in America.

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