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Michael Smerconish Headshot

Mel Gibson's Mortal Sin

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Given recent events, I went back and re-read what I had written about Mel Gibson and his father.....this is from a column dated February 12, 2004.....

Is Mel Gibson a Holocaust denier?

I think that's a fair question given a just-released excerpt from an interview with Gibson in an upcoming issue of Reader's Digest.

I'm sure that just for asking the question, some readers are wondering "exactly what kind of a name is Smerconish, anyway? "

Such are the passions surrounding the upcoming release of "The Passion of the Christ." (Here's a clue: My oldest son will receive First Holy Communion on Mother's Day.)

Before I tell you what Gibson said, here's some background.

In March, the New York Times Magazine did a story about Gibson's role as benefactor of a California Catholic church that is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic archdiocese. This church practices something known as Catholic traditionalism, a factionalized movement that seeks to take the faith back 300 years before the "modern" reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Gibson's 84-year-old father, Hutton Gibson, is a practitioner of Catholic traditionalism, and he was portrayed in the Times magazine story as a bit of a wacko ("a seminary dropout and rabble-rousing theologist"). Hutton Gibson denies al Qaeda's role in 9/11 and dismisses historical accounts that six million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. ("Go and ask an undertaker or the guy who operates the crematorium what it takes to get rid of a dead body. It takes one liter of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million? ")

Many Catholics and some non-Catholic conservatives regard the profile as nothing more than a hit piece on an old man. And it's possible that Hutton Gibson was misquoted or misunderstood.

Either way, while it isn't fair to hold Mel Gibson accountable for his father, the comments of Hutton Gibson are fair grounds for questioning Mel Gibson on the eve of the release of his movie. Which is what Peggy Noonan, ex-Ronald Reagan speechwriter, has done in an interview for the March issue of Reader's Digest.

Now things get interesting.

"You're going to have to go on the record. The Holocaust happened, right?" Noonan asked Mel Gibson.

Gibson responded: "I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. 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 started to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century 20 million people died in the Soviet Union. "

Wait a minute. At first blush that may sound OK. But go back and read it again. On closer inspection, it's unacceptable if that is as far as it goes. It just might be a more cleverly disguised version of what his dad told the Times' magazine.

Mel Gibson acknowledges the existence of the concentration camps, and that atrocities occurred in them. But he then stops short of accepting that Hitler murdered six million Jews. And he unfairly equates famine with genocide. Overall, he chooses to answer a very specific question about the attempts by the Nazis to exterminate an entire race with a reflection on the suffering of war generally.

Here's what he should have said:

"Of course the Holocaust occurred. And in the world's history, it stands alone as a deliberate effort to eliminate an entire race of people. Unfortunately, it succeeded in eliminating a third of all people of Jewish descent from the face of the earth. And its occurrence is not the subject of any legitimate debate."

I'm anxious to see the movie, and have, until recently, been sympathetic to Mel Gibson in the context of concerns raised by people who largely have not seen the film and fear it is nothing more than a modern Passion Play. Now, I am not so sure my sympathy was warranted.

I will see it - and, in the back of my mind, I'll be wondering, like father like son?

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