Mel Gibson may be an alcoholic, a sedevacantist and an anti-Semite – but he has my sympathy

Mel Gibson on the set of How I Spent My Summer Vacation (AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Yvette Vela)

Here we go again. Mel Gibson has been dropped from the cast of Hangover 2. He was to have had a cameo role as a tattooist – the role played in the original Hangover by that winsome rapist Mike Tyson – but at the weekend it emerged that his co-stars had decided that they could not appear alongside a man whose wickedness has dragged the good name of Hollywood through the mud. Over at Salon Matt Zoller Seitz thinks he detects double standards at play:

“There’s something about this Hangover 2 thing that doesn’t pass the smell test. It seems, at the very least, yet another example of the selective outrage that fuels controversy-driven entertainment coverage, and Hollywood posturing generally, with actors, directors, producers, studio bosses and other players working themselves into a righteous snit about certain people and offenses while giving others a pass.”

Go here for the whole thing.

The case against Mel is that he is anti-Semitic, homophobic, violent and alcoholic, and, to add insult to injury, a Roman Catholic. That’s a bad combination in Hollywood. Most Hollywood types can forgive alcoholism and a little domestic violence, but they draw the line at anti-Semitism and homophobia, and they don’t like Catholicism unless it comes from Bing Crosby and is wrapped in tinsel. No one would ever accuse Mel of wrapping his Catholicism in tinsel.

But hang on, is Mel Gibson really a Catholic? No, say his critics; he is a sedevacantist and therefore a schismatic and therefore not a Catholic. You didn’t hear much talk of that sort when The Passion of the Christ was released in 2004. Then it was Mel the conquering Catholic hero; now, in some quarters at least, it is Mel the Damned. When I last wrote about him three months ago, one reader declared in the combox: “I am sorry to say that Mel will go to Hell when he dies. He is NOT a Catholic and absolutely does not practice the true Catholic faith.” Bless that reader for having compassion enough to regret that Mel Gibson is doomed to spend an eternity in unspeakable misery.

But not even Google can tell us exactly what Mel’s religious position is. His friend the Jesuit scholar William Fulco says that Mel denies neither the Pope nor Vatican II. Mel Gibson is obviously a religious nut, however, and there must have been times when, as a loyal son, he embraced his father’s sedevacantism. It is possible that he remains a sede. But so far as I know he has never questioned, far less rejected, any part of Catholic teaching. That’s more than can be said for a lot of Catholics, including priests and bishops. Surveys show that most Catholics in the comfortable West do not accept the Church’s teaching on (for example) birth control. They don’t just ignore it – the way we all ignore moral teaching from time to time – they believe the Church is in error. So it could be that some of those accusing Gibson of sedecavantism may themselves be heretics, or at the very least recalcitrant dissidents. I am not defending sedevacantism – on the contrary – but I am suggesting that sedes are sometimes more faithful to Church teaching than respectable Catholics in the suburbs.

Whatever Mel’s status as a Catholic, however, he is in his anger and resentments a classic type of Catholic alcoholic. His anti-Semitism is very Catholic, too. Catholic anti-Semites are very rarely prejudiced against individual Jews, but have a “thing” about Jews collectively. G K Chesterton loved individual Jews, and was outspoken in his condemnation Hitler’s anti-Semitism, but he was able to write: “I am fond of Jews/Jews are fond of money/Never mind of whose/I am fond of Jews/Oh, but when they lose/Damn it all, it’s funny.” Some might say that those lines are quite innocent, but I am not sure many Jews would.

Mel himself obviously has nothing against Jewish people. His agent, Alan Nierob, is Jewish. Nierob is also the agent of Liam Neeson, who has been picked to replace Gibson in the cameo role in Hangover 2 – pending, as Nierob has said, “clearance of cast and crew background check”. Probably the only sane response to this is to laugh.

All the same, I have sympathies with Mel Gibson, if only because I, too, am an alcoholic, and sense that if I were to go back on the booze I might soon find myself doing Gibson turns. My perhaps rather pious hope is that Mel will sober up – whether or not he is drinking now, he is not sober – and make his peace with the Church. He can after all do that and continue to hear Mass in the old rite. First, though, he must learn moderation. That’s more than I have ever managed to do, but I am persuaded that the only antidote to booze, anger and bad religion is love of God and neighbour, especially when your neighbour is also your enemy.