Is Mel Gibson a Traditionalist Catholic? Sure, I guess, whatever that means.
I’m not being flippant here. But, actor and filmmaker Mel Gibson’s religiosity inhabits an area that is sometimes about Catholicism, sometimes about how he was raised, and a lot about who he is as a person.
What Does “Traditionalist” Mean?
The term “traditionalist” or “conservative” Catholic is a fairly big umbrella. It covers many people who are just conservative.
It also includes fully schismatic sects operating entirely outside the authority of the Catholic Church, to not-quite-schismatic sects in the Church, like the Society of St Pius X (SSPX).
There are also ordinary Catholics who simply like Latin in their worship, support the wearing of chapel veils for women, etc., who can be called traditional, but who are in full communion with the pope and the Holy See.
Actually, the only terms that really mean anything in Catholicism are orthodox (meaning one is aligned with Church teaching) or heterodox (meaning one rejects some Church teaching but not quite to the level of outright heresy).
What Does This Have to Do With Mel Gibson?
All this is very inside-Catholic-baseball, as it were, but I don’t see Gibson as the sort of guy who gets deeply into theological issues.
Looking from the outside, Gibson’s relationship with Catholicism seems to spring much more from his own experiences and personality.
Gibson’s father, Hutton Gibson, had fairly extreme views. He was a sedevacantist (literally meaning “the Holy See is vacant”). This means he rejected the legitimacy of all popes starting with John XXIII (who called for Vatican II), and of any reforms, especially liturgical ones, made after that period.
Mel Gibson has built a chapel in the hills north of Los Angeles, called the Church of the Holy Family. It offers the pre-Vatican-II Tridentine Mass but is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles or any other Catholic organization.
So, Is Mel Gibson Catholic?
Was he baptized into the Catholic Church? As far as I know, yes, he was. Therefore, unless he formally declares himself otherwise, Gibson is Catholic.
He got a civil divorce from the wife he married in the Catholic Church, but not, as far as I can tell, an annulment. A divorce doesn’t, in and of itself, affect one’s standing as a Catholic. It’s what happens afterward that can become an issue.
Gibson’s current girlfriend, writer Rosalind Ross, penned the script for Father Stu. which features Gibson as the main character’s father.
The 2022 film stars devout Catholic (and former rapper and wild child) Mark Wahlberg as a former boxer and aspiring actor who converts to Catholicism for love but winds up becoming a priest.
What About Mel Gibson’s Movies?
Ah, the artist and the art, where does one end and the other begin? That’s a hot-button question these days.
Director Gibson’s self-produced 2004 religious epic The Passion of the Christ is a masterpiece. I suspect that only a filmmaker with Gibson’s intense sensibilities could have made it.
As I said in a 2014 piece about Gibson and his work for CatholicVote:
As for The Passion of the Christ, some see it as too violent and graphic, preferring instead the somewhat more restrained current – and successful, though not at the level of The Passion — Christ-centric film, Son of God, edited from the New Testament portion of The Bible TV miniseries.
On a personal note, when I saw The Passion, many in the audience were crying – and not discreet sniffles, but wrenching sobs. Afterward, as I was standing by the exit, getting the kinks out after the long movie, three young men decked out with baggy clothes, chains hanging from their pockets, backwards baseball caps and tattoos, came down the stairs.
All were visibly shaken, and one sniffling fellow caught my eye just as he reached up to rub his nose. When I smiled, he smiled back and shrugged, as if to say, “What can I say, it got to me.”
For some, The Passion may be a subtle as a sledgehammer, and Gibson the blunt instrument behind it, but if one older man can reach one younger man, he’s done God’s work indeed.
I hope Gibson finally makes the sequel to The Passion he’s been threatening to do for ages, which supposedly is at some phase of production.
What Does the Future Hold for Mel Gibson?
It was just announced that Gibson is directing a suspense film called Flight Risk, starring Wahlberg as “a pilot transporting a dangerous criminal for trial.”
This marks the first time Gibson has directed since 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge, the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a WWII medic and devout Seventh-Day Adventist who rescued 75 of his fellow soldiers and was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Wahlberg got into serious legal trouble in his youth and partied hard as a rapper called Marky Mark. But, he turned his life around and now is one of Hollywood’s most outspoken orthodox Catholics.
One can wonder what conversations might have happened between these two men on the set of Father Stu, and which ones might happen during this new film.
I doubt the Holy Spirit is done with either of these guys yet.
Image: CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 21, 2016: Actor Mel Gibson at the photocall for “Blood Father” at the 69th Festival de Cannes./Shutterstock
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