A top Vatican cardinal has praised Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion as "a triumph of art" and has rejected fears it could spark a wave of anti-Semitism.

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Vatican department in charge of priests, who saw an unfinished version of the film, told Catholic news agency Aciprensa that he would "like all our Catholic priests throughout the world to see it".

U.S. Archbishop John P. Foley of the church's social-communications office also backed the film. According to the Associated Press, he said he hoped to show the film in the Vatican and said he doubted whether criticisms of the film were valid.

"From what I could see of the trailers, it seemed to be an excellent film," Foley said. "I don't think they would be well-founded criticisms because all the material in the film comes directly from the Gospel accounts. There's nothing in the film that doesn't come from the Gospel accounts.

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

Asked about fears of anti-Semitism, Castrillon Hoyos said: "Anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, distorts the truth in order to put a whole race of people in a bad light. This film does nothing of the sort."

But Castrillon Hoyos said the film "captures the subtleties and the horror of sin, as well as the gentle power of love and forgiveness, without making or insinuating blanket condemnations against one group". He called the film "a triumph of art and faith".

The film, due to be released next year, is said to be relentlessly violent in its depiction of Christ's last 12 hours, when the gospels say he was arrested, beaten, scourged and finally crucified.

"In my opinion, one of the great achievements of this film is to have shown so effectively both the horror of sin and selfishness, and the redeeming power of love," Castrillon Hoyos, a Colombian, said.

The film is based on Gospel narratives and contains dialogue only in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic, the vernacular of ancient Palestine. Gibson spent nearly $30 million to produce the movie.