People v. Mel Gibson


Thinking about Mel Gibson, his trials and tribulations, one recalls Ernest Hemingway’s quip about his sometime friend F. Scott Fitzgerald. After describing all the things that made Scott handsome, especially his “delicate long-lipped Irish mouth,” Hemingway adds his usual ironic twist: “This should not have added up to a pretty face, but that came from the coloring, the very fair hair and the mouth. The mouth worried you until you got to know him and then it worried you more.”

With Mel Gibson it’s his eyes. There has always been something wild and sad in his eyes, especially in his mug shots.

One hoped at the time of his 2006 DUI arrest, during which he went into an f-bomb-laced rant about how Jews “are responsible for all the wars in the world,” that the inebriated director was simply venting frustration at some of those who had accused his 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ,” of being anti-Semitic. That was Mr. Gibson’s own rationalization. After apologizing for his drunken outburst, he told a TV interviewer:

Now even before anyone saw a frame of film, for an entire year, I was subjected to a pretty brutal sort of public beating. And during the course of that, I think I probably had my rights violated in many different ways as an American, as an artist, as a Christian, just as a human being.

And at the time this seemed almost credible, especially in an artist of Gibson’s caliber, known to be, as they say, “wound tight,” and given his ongoing problems with booze, and most especially given the daring, brutal, powerful orthodoxy of the film’s portrayal of Jesus Christ dying for our sins, which set the worldly seething. One wished to forgive Mel Gibson’s own disordered passions, especially when commentators such as Bill Maher insisted that Gibson’s “disease isn’t alcoholism, the disease is religion.”

Of course, it is also true that Mel Gibson has built his own “traditionalist” church, Holy Family, near Malibu, California and true too that he seems to some degree to follow the sedevacantist views of his father, Hutton Gibson. Sedevacantism, if you don’t know, comes from the Latin, sede vacante (“the see being vacant”), meaning Gibson père believes the Holy See – the seat of papal authority – has actually been “empty” since Vatican II, which he has called “a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.” (The elder Gibson also says the Holocaust is a myth and that the planes on 9/11 weren’t hijacked but operated by remote control. By whom, he doesn’t say.) Mel’s refusal to condemn his father’s wacky worldview, one hoped, was simply an expression of filial piety.

Alas, it’s no longer possible to make excuses for Mel Gibson. According to that well-known catechetical organ, People magazine, Gibson recently “asked his fellow parishioners at . . . Holy Family . . . not to gossip about him,” which means not to speak to the media about his impending divorce from his wife of twenty-nine years (the mother of his seven children) or his extra-marital affair with a much younger Russian musician, who is pregnant with Mel’s eighth (and her second out-of-wedlock) child. Says a witness: “He tried to intimidate the parishioners by staring at everyone with his angry eyes. Mel even threatened to shut down the church if people kept gossiping about him.” Mel’s eyes used to worry us; now we know him better and we’re really worried.

People goes on to pose some moral-theological questions and provides the answers. Can Mel take Communion? No. Can he get an annulment? Probably not. Can he marry a non-Catholic in a non-Catholic church? Well . . . People offers standard answers, but, honestly, do we think there are now any impediments to the juggernaut that is Mel Gibson’s ego?

People’s last, touching point:

Can the child of an unmarried couple be baptized in the traditionalist Catholic Church? A child is not considered at fault for the circumstances of his or her birth. The child could be baptized and brought up in the church.

This is People magazine, so I suspect there’s some confusion about the modifier “traditionalist,” but apparently one of the priests formerly on staff at Holy Family has stated there will be no remarriage even there.

It is bitterly ironic to read a statement Gibson made nearly a decade ago:

There is nothing more important than your family. If you ruin that part of your life, what’s left? Work? Money? Screwing around? I see a lot of people living like that tell themselves they’re having a good time, but if you look under the surface you see lots of corpses masquerading as human beings.

It’s a mistake ever to count celebrity heads, seeking affirmation of our values, religious or political, among the beautiful, the talented, and the successful. Still, it’s sad to see People’s former “most-beautiful person” (1996) and, now, former Catholic plunge so far, but I guess we should have seen it coming. “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.