Twenty years ago I started praying for Mel Gibson. I admit, that this noble idea was born out of a crush. I’m not embarrassed about it any more than I’m embarrassed that I had a crush on Santa when I was five – because so did every other five year old. But cradle Catholic that I am, I gave up my Mel fantasy and started praying for the real Mel and his family.

Back then, Mel was successfully married and had a normal family. As a Catholic, normal means you accept the kids God sends you – seven in their case - and you are married to their mother. This was miraculous in Hollywood. It’s miraculous anywhere. Catholic families are at the top of Satan’s hit list. Right next to priests.

Around that time, I saw Mel on a talk show alongside Julia Roberts, promoting their movie Conspiracy Theory. A soccer mom in the audience got ahold of a microphone and gushed to Mel that the reason women found him so attractive was partly because he was happily married. Metamessage: Every woman wants a guy who is faithful to her and a good father and is really hot. Mel listened for a couple of seconds then stuck his fingers up his nose.

It was brilliant.

Everybody envied Mel’s wife, Robyn. What must it be like to be her? I wondered that too but the opposite way. What’s it like to have a man who thousands of women would gladly steal from you? 

Mel was at his peak then. Later, he would testify in an interview with Diane Sawyer that it was actually a dark period in his life. He seemed to have everything people want but he was putting his good wife through hell, drinking, going wild. It brought him to the brink of suicide. “I was looking down thinking, Man, this is just easier this way. You have to be mad, insane to despair this way. But that is the height of spiritual bankruptcy.”

Then came his conversion. “I just hit my knees. I just said, Help,” he said. He made The Passion. He had identified with the suffering Christ, confessed his sins, and thrown himself on Christ’s mercy. He even depicted his own hand nailing Christ’s to the cross.  He and his wife paid a visit to the living saint, Sister Lucia of Fatima. It was a day of great rejoicing in heaven. But on earth and under the earth, not. Mel had given glory to Jesus Christ. People who do that are martyred. “We will never work with him again,” they said.

We all know what happened next. Mel hit public rock bottom. Twice. Under the influence of alcohol, he ranted about the Jews the first time, and used the n-word the second time.

It was perfect.

Hollywood, which had turned on him before, now had him right where they wanted him. Out.

In the middle of all that, his wife left him. He got his eighth child with his mistress. His mistress sued him for domestic violence. His fair weather friends left him.

But his wife and kids stuck up for him and said the mistress was a gold digger and that Mel was never abusive. And some of his friends stuck by him, like Whoopi Goldberg, Jodie Foster, and Robert Downey Jr. They said they knew him well and he was no racist. He’d been loyal to them. They were loyal back.

Now Mel is back. He made Hacksaw Ridge – and it was his brand of amazing: noble, honest, and raw. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director and more at both at the Golden Globes and at the Oscars.

So now article after article has come out about the “redemption” of Mel Gibson. As an artist, it must feel good to be able to work again, and to make films that matter to people. Go, Mel! But as a Catholic, I would like to say Go, Mel in another way. Leave. Get out while the getting out is good.

Mel brought his mistress, Rosalind Ross, to the Oscars. She recently gave birth to his ninth child. All of 26 to his 61, she prompts me to think, If you are going to lose your soul, you might as well gain the whole world first. Some outlets are branding her his wife but it’s not official. (On a side note: Is this the new trend? To call a concubine a wife – to further obscure the elevated status of marriage? Keep an eye on that.) Anyway, even if it were official, Mel’s wife, whom he married in the Church, is still alive. Mel knows his catechism on that and so does Hollywood.

This is why I believe Hollywood can now speak of Mel’s redemption. What they mean is their redemption. He is deliberately living against his Catholic Faith now. They will never forgive him for not abridging the gospel their way. They will never cease reminding the world of what he said when he was drunk. But now that he is living in sin, they will accept him back. He is one of them again. He no longer makes them look bad.

I used to wonder when Mel hit rock bottom if he would turn back to God. Most people do. And then people can easily say, Well, he needed something to grab onto. It could just have easily been Scientology. Thus they can rob God of the glory.

But what about now? When you’re on top? When you have everything to lose? This is Mel’s big chance to glorify God again. What if he walked away and left his woman, his career, and Hollywood’s corrosive culture and retired to a monastery for Christ’s sake?

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)

He has children, though. Young children. He diligently tried to protect the seven children of his wife and to his account, succeeded. But he will now have a much tougher time protecting two children of his mistresses. Is it better that he stay or leave? Only one thing is certain, Mel’s most important second chance is not with Hollywood; it’s with his children. All nine of them. I don’t write this judge him. I’m a parent too so I know what it’s like to fear the burden that my own sinfulness places on my children and to pray and sacrifice unceasingly that God will write straight with crooked lines.

That’s why I still pray for Mel and for his whole family. Hollywood may well be offering its brand of redemption and forgiveness but it is never unconditional. God’s is.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. (Psalm 130)

Mel could still become a great saint. Let’s pray for him.