Mel Gibson has received an apology from the UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS after members lashed out at his plans to make a film about the last 12 hours of CHRIST's life.

The high clergy were skeptical about The Passion, which Gibson is directing in Italy, but a spokesman for the Conference admits members were wrong to be critical of a film that has yet to be completed.

Conference heads have agreed to return all unauthorised copies of the script they had obtained to Gibson.

The apology has prompted Gibson's first comments on the furore, which led to religious leaders calling his ambitious project - which will feature the ancient language of Aramaic without subtitles - anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic.

He says, "To be certain, neither I nor my film is anti-Semitic. It's a movie meant to inspire, not to offend.

"My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds who have varying familiarity with this story.

"This is a movie about faith, hope, love and forgiveness - something sorely needed in these turbulent times."

Criticism was levelled at Gibson and his production company, ICON, in March (03) when demands by the Conference of Catholic Bishops to view what was considered a controversial script were ignored.

13/06/2003 19:42