LATEST: Mel Gibson's controversial religious epic THE PASSION OF CHRIST has been praised by Vatican officials - after three highly-influential congregations were invited to special screenings of the film.

According to sources in Rome, the VATICAN SECRETARIAT OF STATE, the PONTIFICAL COUNCIL OF SOCIAL COMMUNICATIONS and the CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, were all invited to watch the eagerly-anticipated movie last weekend (ends7DEC03).

And a report by American news source ZENIT, which tracks Vatican news, suggested the Catholic audiences exhibited "unanimous appreciation and approval" of the JAMES CAVIEZEL-starring film.

In an interview with FATHER AUGUSTINE DI NOIA, undersecretary of the Doctrinal Congregation, he says, "The production of exquisite artistic and religious sensitivity.

"The film neither exaggerates nor downplays the role of Jewish authorities and legal proceedings in the condemnation of Jesus.

"But precisely because it presents a comprehensive account of what might be called the 'calculus of blame' in the passion and death of Christ, the film would be more likely to quell anti-Semitism in its audiences than to excite it."

However, the report has provoked a furious reaction from the ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE, a Jewish rights group, who insist that Gibson should give those who fear the film is anti-Semitic a chance to vet the upcoming release.

10/12/2003 14:06