Holy Father

When it comes to the Catholic hierarchy, Mel Gibsonís dad is one Mad Max

But Gibson's new war -- a religious one -- began in Australia.


Gibson's kids came home from Catholic school with a catechism titled "Shalom." "Shalom," Gibson says, clearly horrified.

Gibson's spiritual views led him to Houston.
Daniel Kramer
Gibson's spiritual views led him to Houston.

Shalom is the Hebrew form of aloha, meaning hello, good-bye and peace.

"Shalom," Gibson repeats again, as if it were a four-letter word. He declared the catechism heresy. It's what spurred him to look at the documents from the Vatican II Council and examine the changes in the church.

Vatican II was a series of meetings between 1962 and 1965 to update the church, although Gibson said it went against God's will. "Nowhere did He say we would accommodate to the times."

One of the main changes was that mass would be said in the language of the congregants, rather than in Latin.

"The Vatican Council called for a full, active and conscious participation in the liturgy," says Monsignor Frank Rossi, chancellor of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. Priests no longer turned their backs on the congregation for mass, but instead faced them. Parishioners got a more active role in the church.

"The first changes that came in were very subtle," says Jack Davignon, a traditionalist Catholic and coordinator for Saint Michael the Archangel Chapel in Spring. "It was like putting a lobster in water, then bringing the temperature up slowly. At first, you didn't notice the water was getting hotter."

Gibson believes the church has changed so much that the Holy Ghost doesn't recognize it. He argues that the church had been fine for thousands of years and it didn't need to change to pander to a few people who didn't want to learn Latin.

He joined the Latin Mass Society, a small group of older people who supported the Latin mass. He was appointed secretary and authored the newsletter. The group kicked him out because he was too outspoken, particularly against the pope. "It's not just my salvation -- but a lot of other people's [salvation] depends on it," he says. "It does me no great deal if everyone else goes to hell. I'm not just out for myself."


While his religious campaign was escalating, his life in Australia was becoming more difficult. Gibson says the country was beautiful, but jobs were becoming harder to find.

His son-in-law found work outside Houston. And a few years ago, Gibson decided to move to Texas with his daughter's family. What sealed the decision was his discovery of a church in the southwest part of Houston that offered a traditional mass that Gibson recognizes. Those churches, he says, are impossible to find in Australia.

After the death of his first wife about ten years ago, Gibson fell in love with a woman at the church and they were married in 2001. He says he should have done it sooner. They live in a new home with lead-crystal candlesticks and fake grapes on the dining room table.

Sitting in the dining room with his eyes closed, Gibson says the Vatican's new dogma is as "self-contradictory as a square circle." He says the Vatican II Council was "an act of foolishness, stupidity, defiance and deliberate rejection of Christ."

Mel Gibson, in his Playboy interview, defended his father's books as canonically and theologically sound. "Everything he was taught to believe was taken from him in the sixties with this renewal Vatican Council," the son said. "The whole institution became unrecognizable to him, so he writes about it."

While he has supporters who say his arguments are based on fact, some of them have trouble with his notion that the pope isn't really Catholic. The more recent popes may not have acted like Catholics, Davignon says, "but we can't say that there is no pope."

Father James Gordon, a traditionalist priest who runs Mater Dei Chapel out of his house near Gulfgate Mall, says of John Paul II, "Good, bad or otherwise, his tushie warms the chair of Saint Peter."

Rossi argues that the new mass is actually more traditional than the traditional mass. The old mass has more scripture readings, longer prayers, more incense and more bells. He laughs at the idea that the Holy Spirit has left the church. "Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the church," he says. "So the Spirit will not leave the church."

He trusts Jesus to keep his word.

Inside the Vatican recently reported that Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze has drafted a major disciplinary document that will end "do it yourself" masses and will encourage wider use of the traditional mass.

Some traditionalist priests in the area think that's a step in the right direction, although the monsignor at the Houston diocese says he doubts it will lead to a resurgence of old Latin masses. And so does Gibson. But Gibson doesn't trust anything that comes out of the Vatican.

Gibson says that the destruction of the church is a sign of the Apocalypse. And as soon as the church is destroyed, the world will end.

"I figure that as long as there's one [true] Catholic in the world, it hasn't finished," he says. "So I'm trying to keep it going."

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