Page 20, 24th April 2009

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Page 20, 24th April 2009 — Don't be mean to Me
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Locations: Malibu, Sydney

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Don't be mean to Me

Stuart Reid Charterhouse

The similarities between me and Mel Gibson may not at first sight be obvious. For one thing I am taller than he is by perhaps three inches, or was before I began to shrink, and have therefore never felt the need to wear heels. For another I have never been voted the "sexiest man alive", or even the second sexiest. For yet another I have not, yet. appeared in leathers with Tina Turner on the cover of Cosmo Man.

But there are similarities. Mel and I both lived in Sydney in the Sixties, we are both "traditionalist" Catholics, we are both alcoholics, and we have both made a mess of our marriages. Mel is about to get divorced, and I was divorced 25 years ago.

The traditionalists who leapt noisily to Mel's defence over The Passion of The Christ (which A N Wilson once described as "that rather sweet film") have been largely silent since Robyn Gibson served divorce papers on her husband last week.

Even when Mel was done for drink driving in 2006, he got a fair amount of support, but then getting wrecked and slagging off the Jews is one thing; divorce quite another, especially if you are a traditionalist.

Those of us who make a point of defending the Church's rather strict teaching on sexual morality and who at the same time get all bossy-boots about the liturgy really ought to avoid things like divorce and chatting up girls in bars, or whatever it was that Mel had been doing when he was stopped in Malibu by deputy sherriff James Mee for driving at 87 mph in a 45 mph zone.

All the same, Mel deserves our sympathy. As an alcoholic and a Tridentine alcoholic at that he is not absolutely right in the head. I do not know whether he is drinking at the moment, but if he was anything like me in his cups tearful, abusive, self-pitying then I am surprised Robyn took so long to change the locks. Even if Mel wasn't like me, though, his wife had plenty to contend with, not least what once appeared to be Mel's literalist interpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

In September 2003 the star of What Women Want told the New Yorker: "My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's not fair if she doesn't make it, she's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it."

That quote is lovingly cut and pasted every time liberal journalists want to take Mel down. Yet he recanted that exclusivist position in a television interview with Diane Sawyer only five months later.

Asked by Ms Sawyer whether in his traditionalist view heaven's doors were shut to Jews, Protestants and Muslims, he answered: "That's not the case at all. Absolutely notl It is possible for people who are not even Christian to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. It's just easier for and I have to say this because it's what I believe..."

"You have a non-stop ticket?" suggested Ms Sawyer.

"Well, yeah, I'm saying it's an easier ride. I have to believe that."

Ms Sawyer noted that Mel's father, Hutton, a real headbanger if ever there was one, had questioned the extent of the Holocaust, and she asked Mel whether he had any sympathy with his father's views.

He said he did not, but refused to condemn his father: "Their whole agenda here, my detractors, is to drive a wedge between me and my father and it's not going to happen. I love him. He's my father."

Sawyer: "And you will not speak publicly about him beyond that."

Gibson: "I am tight with him. He's my father. Got to leave it alone, Diane. Got to leave it alone."

Good on yer, Gibbol Mind you, Mel was being interviewed as part of a publicity drive for The Passion, and his agent would probably have advised him against Holocaust denial in that context. I am persuaded, however, that Mel is not a denier, even if he has had "issues" and even if Hutton's heretical (or schismatic) traditionalism has obviously had a profound influence on him. Maybe Mel's literalism was a symptom not just of his father's influence but of his alcoholism, or maybe his alcoholism was a product of the mind games he has forced himself to play. Who knows? It does not matter now. though. What matters now is that he may get properly sober, properly Catholic; the break-up of his marriage may be his rock bottom.

In AA we talk of sharing our "experience, strength and hope". I therefore share this: that my marriage ended in February 1982 after 16 years, some of them pretty blurred. That was my rock bottom. I have not had a drink since. Three years later, however, having divorced my wife, I got married again, this time in a civil ceremony. For many years I did what the Church suggests in cases such as mine: I went to Mass on Sundays and holy days, but did not go to Communion. I was an observant Catholic, but not a practising one.

Last January, as I recorded here a year ago, I spent a few days at Ampleforth, and told my story to a monk I had known some 50 years earlier. After lunch one day he tapped me on the sleeve and said: "I think it's time you went to Confession." So I made my first Confession for 26 years.

It would be unfair to the people I love and whose lives I share or have shared to go into more detail. I mention these things now because I have a tendency to lay down the law and readers have a right to know that I have "form".

The Church does not offer divorced and remarried Catholics a way out the teaching on marriage is unambiguous but she does offer us the love and courage necessary to find a way back. Nothing is impossible.




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