September 23, 2003 01:00 PM

Mel Gibson — still embroiled in the controversy swirling around his film about the crucifixion of Jesus, “The Passion” — is in the news again. This time he’s negotiating with Warner Bros. to produce (and likely star in) a movie based on William Queen’s upcoming book “Under and Alone,” says the Hollywood Reporter.

The non-fiction title, to be published next June, tells how Queen (for three years an undercover cop in Southern California’s office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) infiltrated the Mongols motorcycle gang. He then entered the federal witness protection program.

As for “The Passion,” last week a top Vatican cardinal entered the fray, rejecting fears that it’s anti-Semitic and praising it as “a triumph of art.”

“I would gladly trade some of the homilies that I have given about the passion of Christ for even a few of the scenes of his film,” said Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Vatican department in charge of priests, as quoted by Reuters.

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League said the film could provoke hatred of Jews given its portrayal of Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus.

Gibson, 47, also took on New York Times columnist Frank Rich in the New Yorker magazine for Rich’s early criticism of the film, with Gibson saying, “I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. … I want to kill his dog.”

Last Sunday, Rich assured readers in an article that he does not have a dog.

Rich also went on to say, “When non-right-wing Jews asked to see the film, we were turned away — thus allowing Gibson’s defenders, in a perfect orchestration of Catch-22, to say we were attacking or trying to censor a film we ‘haven’t seen.'”

The columnist went on to say: “I never called the movie anti-Semitic or called for its suppression. I did say that if early reports by Catholic and Jewish theologians alike were accurate in stating that ‘The Passion’ revived the deicide (murder of a deity) charge against Jews, it could have a tinderbox effect.”

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