Call it coincidence or providence. A new documentary about Christian anti-Semitism that has drawn the ire of some Catholic groups premiered Friday in New York -- the same day Pope Benedict XVI visited a synagogue on the city's Upper East Side.
The film, "Constantine's Sword," in which former Roman Catholic priest and author James Carroll traces the violent history of the Christian faith, takes Pope Benedict XVI to task for not fully acknowledging the Catholic Church's and Christianity's role in the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust.
"It wasn't planned," the film's Oscar-nominated director Oren Jacoby says of the film's opening during the papal visit. "But it gives us an opportunity to present the story of Jim, the remarkable story of an American Catholic whose faith was fractured by people hijacking religion."
Pope Benedict even makes an appearance in the film, when he visits a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, shortly after his installation as pope. There he condemns the Nazi genocide but characterizes it as an outgrowth of neo-paganism.
Carroll says Benedict did not go far enough. In the film, he addresses the camera, saying "that hatred had two parents," the other being Christian fanaticism. "This film is about reckoning with Christianity's role," he says.
That reckoning has some Catholic groups upset. The filmmakers say "Catholic New York," the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, refused earlier this week to run ads promoting the film. After contacting the newspaper, ABCNEWS.com was told that no one was available to comment on the matter.
The Catholic League, which dubs itself the nation's largest civil rights organization for Catholics, launched a protest against "Constantine's Sword" two weeks ago and blocked clips from being shown at a panel discussion on terrorism at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The league objected to cadets being required to watch something they "might find offensive," Kiera McCaffrey, the league's director of communication, told ABCNEWS.com.
McCaffrey says the group has not seen the film but is familiar with the book that Carroll wrote, "Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History," that the 95-minute documentary is distilled from.
"Carroll argues that anti-Semitism is inherent in Christian theology, that it is central to Christianity," McCaffrey says. "That is absolutely bigoted and untrue. He has a grudge against the church. He's a former priest who grew angry, and instead of picking up and leaving, he tries to attack the church."
Jacoby defends Carroll as someone who is holding true to his faith while daring to challenge it. They say "Constantine's Sword" goes beyond criticizing the Catholic Church's role in Jewish persecution to examining how religious abuses occur when the church is aligned with the state.
The film begins with a story of religious infiltration of the military at the Air Force Academy. Mikey Weinstein describes the harassment of his son, Casey, a Jewish cadet, by evangelical Christians who blanket the cafeteria with fliers promoting the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of the Christ," and refer to Jews as "Christ killers." He sued the Air Force, but the case never made it to trial.
Johnny Whitaker, the Academy's director of communications, told ABCNEWS.com, that the Academy was aware of issues of "religious insensitivity" back in March 2004 and brought in a team from Washington to investigate. The result since the filming of the documentary has been the creation of several special programs including an interfaith council where cadets can go to their peers with complaints. Whitaker adds that there have been no formal complaints of religious intolerance in the past two years.
Ted Haggard, the former pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., also makes an appearance in the film, arguing for the right of evangelicals to proselytize the Air Force Academy cadets. The documentary filmed him before his fall from grace during a scandal involving a former male prostitute.
Jacoby worries that such incidents are affecting U.S. foreign policy. Adds Mikey Weinstein, who formed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation as a result of the film and what happened to his son: "We don't have a Pentagon. We have a Pentecostal-gon. The Constitution doesn't guide them, but the book of Revelations and the New Testament."
Jacoby and Carroll say their film is especially relevant today in light of the war on terror and President Bush's use of words like "crusade" to describe the Iraq War. Carroll warns that "we're on the cusp of a religious war that could destroy the 21st century," if we give in to fundamentalism.