from a news release-- The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has apologized to director Mel Gibson and is returning unlawfully obtained copies of the script of his movie, "The Passion," which depicts the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus. Meantime, Gibson is denying accusations of anti-Semitism. The screenplay was reportedly obtained by an ad hoc group of Catholic and Jewish scholars who work with the USCCB and the Anti-Defamation League. Mark E. Chopko, General Counsel for the USCCB, says, "We regret that htis situation has occurred, and offer our apologies." The scholars, convened via email and the Internet, had intended to read the confidential script in order to request revisions for the film that conform to their ideas of history and theology. Certain members of the group went on to critique the script in articles in both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. "We respect everyone's right to their opinion about our film," said producer Steve McEveety. "However, no one has the right to publicly critique a movie that has not even been completed, let alone base their critique on an outdated version of the Script that has been illegally obtained." "To be certain, neither I nor my film are anti- Semitic," said Mel Gibson. "If the intense scrutiny during my 25 years in public life revealed I had ever persecuted or discriminated against anyone based on race or creed, I would be all to willing to make amends. But there is no such record. "Nor do I hate anybody--certainly not the Jews," Mr. Gibson continued. "They are my friends and associates, both in my work and social life. Thankfully, treasured friendships forged over decades are not easily shaken by nasty innuendo. Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs; it is also contrary to the core message of my movie. "'The Passion' is a film mean to inspire, not offend," he concluded. "My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thoughts among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds (or none) who have varying familiarity with this story. For those concerned about the content of this move, know that it conforms to the narratives of Christ's passion and death found in the four Gospels of the New Testament. This is a movie about faith, hope, love and forgiveness--something sorely needed in these turbulent times."