The 19th-century German nun whose blood-soaked visions of Jesus's death inspired Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" will soon be put on the path to sainthood, Catholic Church officials said.
Anne Catherine Emmerich, a sickly mystic who lived from 1774 to 1824, has reached near-cult status among traditionalist Roman Catholics for her book that gave Gibson the grisly details the Gospels did not provide.
The Vatican says Pope John Paul II will beatify Emmerich for her virtuous life, not her best-selling book. But the Oct. 3 ceremony will further publicize her Passion accounts that some critics denounce as medieval and anti-Semitic.
"Beatification will almost certainly be interpreted as approval of them," the Rev. John O'Malley, a church historian, wrote disapprovingly in the U.S. Jesuit weekly America.
Bishop Reinhard Lettmann announced the beatification date last week in his Muenster diocese in western Germany, where Emmerich lived. Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
Lettmann stressed how the nun had strengthened others in their faith despite her own frailty, a theme dear to John Paul, who struggles on at age 84 despite Parkinson's disease.
Although Gibson contends that his blockbuster film is true to the Gospels, he clearly turned to Emmerich's "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ" for some striking scenes.
The episode in which Mary mops up her son's blood after his sadistic scourging is pure Emmerich. No Gospel mentions a hooded devil inciting Jews to demand Christ's crucifixion or following him as he carried his cross.
"Amazing images -- she supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of," Gibson told an interviewer this year.
"What you see in her text is a very visceral Christianity," said Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, an art professor at Georgetown University.
"It is very raw and well-suited to a modern culture with a high level of violence," she said. "It's not something you want to read to your children before putting them to bed."
Critics point to another problem with "The Dolorous Passion" -- its anti-Semitism. Emmerich portrays the Jews as Christ killers, a view the Catholic Church renounced as part of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
"I would not recommend it to anyone," historian O'Malley wrote.
The Vatican suspended an earlier bid to beatify Emmerich in 1928 out of concern that Clemens Brentano, the German Romantic poet who wrote down her visions, had embellished her account with his own details. But the case was reopened in 1973 and approved in July 2003, eight months before Gibson's film was released.
"The sales of her book have gone through the roof," said Apostolos-Cappadona, who analyzes Gibson's film in the forthcoming book "Re-viewing The Passion."
She sees traditionalist Catholics' enthusiasm for Emmerich as a reaction to a fast-changing secular world: "There is a nostalgia for certainty from things that existed before."