Hutton Gibson, Extremist and Father of Mel Gibson, Dies at 101

    Hutton Gibson, a Roman Catholic traditionalist and outspoken critic of the modern church who gained wide notoriety as the father of the actor Mel Gibson and for his anti-Semitic views, died on May 11 in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 101.

    His death, at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center, was not publicized at the time. It was confirmed by a search of a California records database. Requests for information from several family members, including his son Mel, were not answered.

    Hutton Gibson belonged to a splinter group of Catholics who reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, known as Vatican II. These traditionalists seek to preserve centuries-old orthodoxy, especially the Tridentine Mass, the Latin Mass established in the 16th century. They operate their own chapels, schools and clerical orders apart from the Vatican and in opposition to it.

    But even among these outsiders, Mr. Gibson, who had early in life attended a seminary before dropping out, was extreme in his views. He denied the legitimacy of John Paul II as pope, once calling him a “Koran Kisser,” and said Vatican II had been “a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.” He called Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a traditionalist leader until his death in 1991, a “compromiser.” Mr. Gibson earned the nickname “Pope Gibson” for his outspoken, dogmatic opinions on faith.

    After he was expelled from a conservative group in Australia, where he had moved with his family from New York State in 1968, Mr. Gibson formed his own, Alliance for Catholic Tradition. Beginning in 1977, he disseminated his ultra-Orthodox views in a newsletter, “The War Is Now!,” and through self-published books, including “Is the Pope Catholic?” (1978) and “The Enemy is Here!” (1994). The Wisconsin Historical Society library and archives holds Mr. Gibson’s published works among its extensive collection of religious publications.

    Mr. Gibson never reached more than a small audience with his writings. But after his son Mel, the sixth of 11 children, became a Hollywood movie star, the father’s profile rose, largely to the detriment of his son’s public image.

    In 2003, as Mel Gibson was directing “The Passion of the Christ,” his film about the crucifixion, Hutton Gibson gave an interview to The New York Times laced with comments about conspiracy theories. The planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, had been remote-controlled, he claimed (without saying by whom). The number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was wildly inflated, he went on.

    “Go and ask an undertaker or the guy who operates the crematorium what it takes to get rid of a dead body,” Mr. Gibson said. “It takes one liter of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million?”

    Credit…Fairfax Media, via Getty Images

    In a radio interview a week before the February 2004 release of “The Passion,” Mr. Gibson went further, saying of the Holocaust, “It’s all — maybe not all fiction — but most of it is.” The comments added to an already simmering controversy that the film was anti-Semitic; the chairmen of two major studios told The Times that they wouldn’t work with Mel Gibson in the future.

    Interviewed by Diane Sawyer of ABC News, the actor was asked to repudiate his father’s statements. He stopped short of doing so, saying: “He’s my father. Gotta leave it alone, Diane. Gotta leave it alone.”

    Hutton Peter Gibson (some sources give his name at birth as John Hutton Gibson) was born on Aug. 26, 1918, in Peekskill, N.Y., in Westchester County, to John Gibson, a businessman, and Eva Mylott, an opera singer born in Australia. Hutton grew up in Chicago, and both his parents died before he was out of his teens. A younger brother, Alexis, also died young, leaving Hutton on his own.

    He would compensate, after serving in the Marines in World War II, by having a large family — five daughters and six sons — with his wife, Anne (Reilly) Gibson.

    Mr. Gibson was a domineering patriarch who raised his children in a morally strict household and in near poverty in Peekskill, Wensley Clarkson wrote in “Mel Gibson: Living Dangerously,” a 1998 biography. Mr. Gibson’s job as a brakeman and later freight conductor for the New York Central Railroad hardly provided for his large brood.

    The family’s fortunes changed, initially for the worse, in the 1960s, when Mr. Gibson injured his spine on the job and couldn’t work. But in 1968, appearing on the television game show “Jeopardy!” (then hosted by Art Fleming), he won several thousand dollars in becoming grand champion, money that kept his family afloat. He then won a substantial settlement in a lawsuit he had brought against the railroad over his injury, according to Mr. Clarkson’s book.

    Mr. Gibson used the money to move his family to Australia, his mother’s country.

    He returned to the United States in his later years, settling first in Texas and then in West Virginia, and remarried after his wife died. That second marriage ended in a bitter divorce. Survivors include Mr. Gibson’s numerous children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

    Into his 80s, Mr. Gibson would drive 300 miles round-trip from his West Virginia home to attend Sunday Mass at a traditionalist church in Greensburg, Pa., about 34 miles east of Pittsburgh. But after what The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review described as a “power struggle” between Mr. Gibson and other parishioners, he left to form a new church, setting it up in a ranch home nearby.

    The church, St. Michael the Archangel Chapel, was financially backed by Mel Gibson, who practices the same traditionalist brand of Roman Catholicism as his father did. The church was not recognized by the Diocese of Greensburg.


    1. The negative slant is obvious and expected. Mel’s father was a passionate man and clearly very intelligent. The BEST evidence of that is Mel’s own success and clear superiority in the market.


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