Anyone who paid close attention during the EWTN interviews with Mel Gibson, released during that Christian-media PR wave before The Passion of the Christ, could read between the lines. The timeline was pretty clear.
Gibson (1) had been through some very rough times, describing in vague terms all the rumors about booze and a troubled private life. He was one messed-up sinner. Then (2) he had stepped back from the brink and there had been some events that he linked to God working in his life, including his interest in the writings of the mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich and the gift of a small pieces of one of the nun's cloaks. This led to (3) the intensely personal work on The Passion, a time during which Gibson -- always a wild man when it comes to language and work habits -- put himself under very tight controls.
I was struck that Gibson, while filming that movie, said he was going to confession every day and was working as closely as possible with the priests involved in the movie. I heard some of these details repeated when I interviewed the Jesuit -- Father William Fulco -- who worked with Gibson on the Aramaic translations for The Passion.
It sounded, to me, like Gibson was on the wagon and that the very nature of the Passion project was helping him battle some of his demons. He was surrounded by Catholics and other Christians and he needed them for the project. The sinner was, whatever the mixed motives, getting some of the help that he needed. This led to the next question: What would happen next?
Even up here in the quiet mountains of North Carolina, it is impossible to escape the barrage of coverage of the sinner's slide into the ditch. Sinners do this. We all do it in, in ways that are private and rarely public.
I have not, needless to say, been able to follow all the coverage in this cyber cafe.
There have been icy blasts of Hollywood cynicism, such as Patrick Goldstein's Big Picture column in the Los Angeles Times. There was the tragic -- whether it was spin or not -- report about Gibson being suicidal. Actually, if a Catholic father was failing his wife and children in such a hellish and public manner (even before the arrest), despair and suicide might be a logical next temptation.
Then there was the second apology, with its open appeal for the help of major Jewish leaders. I was shocked that some mainstream reporters and leaders took it rather seriously, not that Gibson offered a serious apology after he sobered up. As Peter Carlson reported in The Washington Post:
Apology I was judged to be "insufficient" and "unremorseful" by Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman, who had criticized "Passion" as an incitement to anti-Semitism, posted a statement on the ADL's Web site: "We would hope that Hollywood would now realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from the anti-Semite."
But Foxman was more impressed with Apology II. "We are glad that Mel Gibson has finally owned up to the fact that he made anti-Semitic remarks and his apology sounds sincere," Foxman said in a statement. "Once he completes his rehabilitation for alcohol abuse, we will be ready and willing to help him with his second rehabilitation to combat this disease of prejudice." Gibson's agent yesterday indicated his client was availing himself of help as an outpatient.
After wading through some of this, the reporter in me wants to ask this question: Is this a religion story or a Hollywood story?
The answer, of course, is that it is both.
The Hollywood story will get covered, one way or another. I am curious to know whether many mainstream reporters will take Gibson at his word and attempt to cover the religion story, the story of the sinner who either will, or will not, repent and take the radical actions required to get back on the wagon of faith and family. In his second apology, Gibson described his fall in terms of sin and faith. That could be spin. It could be real. That is a story, in and of itself.
I am a public person, and when I say something, either articulated and thought out, or blurted out in a moment of insanity, my words carry weight in the public arena. As a result, I must assume personal responsibility for my words and apologise directly to those who have been hurt and offended by those words.
The tenets of what I profess to believe necessitate that I exercise charity and tolerance as a way of life. Every human being is Godâ€™s child, and if I wish to honour my God I have to honour his children. But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.
... I imagine it's hard to simply turn the other cheek.
Especially when you consider that Gibson was allegedly doing 80 mph on the Pacific Coast Highway at 2:30 in the morning with a bottle of tequila in his Lexus, and that he dropped F-bombs like a sailor when he got pulled over. It was F this and F that, an R-rated performance start to finish. When he got to the station, he reportedly tried to smash a phone and urinate in his cell.
Where does the penance begin? A hundred thousand rosaries and six months of Hail Marys?
Indeed, where does the penance begin? It begins in a confession booth and at home. But how can the media cover those private locations? Gibson can repent before God and a priest and no one will know and that's how it should be. It is, in a way, easier to repent before God than before the principalities and powers of Hollywood.
However, there are factual questions, public questions that can be asked.
What is the status of Gibson's controversial Mayan movie, Apocalypto? He should be editing it right now, since it remains unfinished. Media reports indicate that he is in an outpatient program. OK, but what has happened to his Catholic support network? Has he appealed for help? I wonder if his friends at EWTN have heard from him.
There are public steps that Gibson can take, if his faith and his repentance are sincere. Where to begin? Julia Duin of The Washington Times offered some suggestions, thinking as a believer and as a reporter:
Sometimes a little Catholic guilt is a good thing.
But what's key here is repentance, not just apologies. Without the former, you're toast to God, never mind Hollywood. Now is the time for some radical steps.
Never drink again. Seriously. ... Confess, confess, confess. You not only trashed Jews in your drunken rage, your remarks were obscene and sexist as well. Humility in public life is quite becoming, especially in your line of work. Admit to the world that Jesus was -- and still is -- Jewish, so your offense was against him as well.
A visit to Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka or all three Holocaust sites may not be a bad idea. The American Jewish Committee was right in saying that repentance is measured in actions, not words.
If Rabbi David Baron really wants you to speak at Temple of the Arts on Yom Kippur (Sunday, Oct. 1, if you didn't already know), then go. Showing up there -- or at the concentration camps -- may come off as a PR stunt, but right now, you need a better photo op than that booking mug shot.
Beg -- don't ask -- people of all faiths to pray for you. Jews will consider that a mitzvah and Christians are commanded to pray for their enemies.
This is a strange news story, and journalists will need to cover both sides of Gibson's fall -- the faith side as well as the celebrity side. Where is Gibson turning, in this time of need? Is the sinner getting the help that he needs?