Vatican officials relatively quiet about
The Da Vinci Code

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Is The Da Vinci Code on the Vatican's radar?

You wouldn't know it by public pronouncements. Vatican officials have said little or nothing about the book, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, or the upcoming movie, expected to open the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The dominant school of thought at the Vatican is that it is always best to ignore a book or film that presents the Church unfairly.

"You're only feeding the publicity," said one Vatican official. "I don't think the Vatican will say much about this movie when it comes out -- if anything."

But not everyone feels that way, and there are signs that the Code phenomenon may be reaching the critical mass necessary to provoke something stronger from the Vatican.

Last year, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, formerly No. 2 at the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, said it was "truly sad and terrible" that The Da Vinci Code had become such a popular book among Italian high school students. What left him aghast was that young people were uncritically accepting the novel's premise that the Catholic Church had tried to obliterate the feminine aspect from the Gospel narratives and from the life of the Church.

"There is nothing more false," Cardinal Bertone said. He pointed to the importance the Church gives to Mary and the attention given in the Gospel to Jesus' female disciples, including the women who announced to the male disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead.

"There is nothing more false than the need to rediscover a -- how can I say it -- an 'amazon' Mary Magdalene in order to recuperate the presence of women" in the Church, he said.

The papal preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, also blasted The Da Vinci Code in one of his last sermons to Pope John Paul II last year.

"In an unending stream of novels, films and plays, writers manipulate the figure of Christ under cover of imaginary and nonexistent new documents and discoveries. The Da Vinci Code is but the last and most aggressive episode of the series. It is becoming a fashion, a literary genre," he said.

The Da Vinci Code is loosely based on writings called the Gnostic gospels, which the Church rejected as part of the Christian canon many centuries ago.

It's unlikely that Pope Benedict XVI or most of the Vatican's top officials have even read the book. But if they went down to St. Peter's Square and looked in the backpacks of tourists and pilgrims, they'd probably be amazed at how many people are toting it around.

With the film version expected to reach an even bigger audience, some people think the Vatican may not be able to sit on the sidelines of this cultural battle. The strategy should be pro-active and not just defensive, they say.

"We need to point out the errors. But we also need to take advantage of the interest it's stirred up, to talk about real biblical scholarship and the real history of the Church," said one Vatican official who works in communications.

Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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