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Mel Gibson pulls 'Passion' from festival

Mel Gibson, right, directs Jim Caviezel, playing Jesus, in
Mel Gibson, right, directs Jim Caviezel, playing Jesus, in "The Passion."

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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Mel Gibson has pulled "The Passion of Christ," depicting Jesus on screen, from a Vatican-sponsored film festival -- because his movie is not ready.

The unreleased, but controversial, movie about the final hours of the life of Jesus was scheduled to be shown Tuesday to a select group of Roman Catholic officials as part of the "Christ and the Cinema" festival.

But Gibson had "second thoughts" about some of the scenes and is re-editing the film, the movie's producer Nick Hill wrote in a letter to the organizer, Andrea Piersanti.

The former actor, who has written and is co-producing the film, said he would be happy to schedule a preview in the Vatican once the movie is finished, the letter added.

The festival screening was supposed to have been for a very restricted group to have included Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; and various religious experts from Roman Catholic universities based in Rome.

Organizer Piersanti said Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, has already viewed an earlier version of the movie.

The film has already come in for criticism from some Jewish and Roman Catholic groups who are concerned it will fuel anti-Semitism.

Others, including fundamentalist Christians and media names such as columnist Cal Thomas and Jewish Web personality Matt Drudge, have said the film is "beautiful" and "magical."

Biblical scholars have called Gibson's reading of the New Testament into question, and rumors have floated that the script's sources allegedly include an 18th-century Roman Catholic mystic.

Gibson's company, Icon Productions, has denied the rumors and claimed that a Catholic-Jewish group criticizing the film had seen an earlier, stolen copy of the script.

The film is currently scheduled for release on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004.


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