The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster has launched a "Da Vinci Code Response Group" to counter the release of the film version of Dan Brown's book, which apparently sold a couple of copies. (You may have heard of it.) Here's who they are and what their aim is:
How beautiful is that? No calls for beheadings, no calls for legal action, no incitements to riot, and smartly, no calls for a boycott of the film, an almost guaranteed way to put more bodies in the theatres. (Rocco Palmo, writing in his influential blog, Whispers in the Loggia, about Cardinal Francis Arinze's call for a boycott and legal action against the film, asks, "Is the good cardinal getting points out the back end for this?)Of course, there are those who disagree with this civilized stance.
The Da Vinci Code Response Group is a team of Catholics available for comment on the film, co-ordinated by Austen Ivereigh, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster’s Director for Public Affairs. It is not an official body of the Catholic Church and contains a diversity of opinions and people, including a Benedictine abbot, two priests, theologians and academics, as well as members of Opus Dei and lay Catholics working in communications .
The group has been formed because the DVC is fiction trading as fact. We believe the DVC is fun and harmless in so far as it is treated as fiction. We do not believe in condemnations, boycotts or protests. Prickliness on the part of Christians leads us into the trap laid by Dan Brown: that the Church is on the defensive because it is engaged in a cover-up.
But we are also exasperated that many people without a good understanding of the Catholic Church and its history have been understandably deceived by Dan Brown’s claim that the DVC is based on facts and respectable theories. That deception is likely to be reinforced by the film, because images are much more powerful than words. We support Opus Dei’s call for Sony Corporation to include a disclaimer in the film making clear it is fiction. Sony has so far ignored that request. If they include it, we will be delighted.
In the absence of such a disclaimer, we consider it our task in advance of the film’s release to point out the yawning gap between fact and fiction. We believe that the DVC has presented the Church with a positive opportunity to discuss the key tenets of our faith, and we look forward to turning “lemon into lemonade”.
Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for the UK's Times Online, reports on her blog that DVC response group member Peter Jennings, a Catholic commentator and Press Secretary to the Archbishop of Birmingham, has "condemned and distanced himself from the group's statement." (Jennings' name no longer appears, if it ever did, on the list of group members posted at the Westminster Archdiocese website.)
Jennings told Gledhill why he feels as he does:
'The Da Vinci Code is far more than an attack on Opus Dei. It is an attack on Catholic Church.[Okay, this is weird: I just discovered that the hyperlinked text "hard-line approach" in Gledhill's article links to my post from last Sunday about Cardinal Arinze calling for legal action against DVC. There's a first! As my main man Jesse used to say, "I am somebody!" But enough about me...]
'I agree with the more hard-line approach adopted by Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith when he spoke at the media conference in Rome, at which I was present, on Friday 28 April.
'He said: "'The Da Vinci Code is an offensive, anti-Christian novel, full of lies, mistakes, and theological errors about Jesus, the Gospels and the Church." Archbishop Amato stressed this during his thought-provoking lecture: The Presentation of the Magisterium of the Church in the World of the Media.'
Archbishop Amato urged Catholics worldwide to "boycott" The Da Vinci Code film when it goes on general release. I will go and see the film in order to give radio, television and newspaper interviews about it. I do not speak out about a film or a book I have not seen or read.'
'I agree with Archbishop Amato when he said: "If such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust, they would have justly provoked a world uprising."
'I think that Catholics, and Christians of all traditions, should challenge Dan Brown and ask: Would you dare to write so offensively about Islam, the Koran, and the Prophet Mohamed?
"I suspect that the answer would be an emphatic no!
'As Catholic journalist, writer and broadcaster since the mid-1970's, I found much of what Dan Brown wrote in The Da Vinci Code about the Catholic Church and the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, to be deeply deplorable and deeply offensive. I will continue to defend my Catholic Faith loudly and clearly and sincerely hope that millions of other Catholics worldwide will now stand for what we believe and not allow the person of Jesus Christ to be blasphemed in this outrageous way.'
So Jennings plays the fundamentalist card, siding with those who burn down buildings and threaten death to blasphemers rather than those who favor rational discourse. I'm sure Torquemada would be proud.
Austen Ivereigh's response to Jennings is poetic in its simplicity:
'There are a variety of possible responses to the DVC. Some would like to organise world uprisings. We prefer to talk.'Finally, here's a message for people who say things like, "If such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust, they would have justly provoked a world uprising." The Holocaust is not synonymous with the Koran, with the Catholic Church, with Muhammed, or with the divinity of Christ. The Holocaust is not a matter of faith, nor should it be a matter of religion: it's a matter of fact. Stop using it to score cheap points with Jews, because it's quite frankly offensive, and should be to all people regardless of their religious beliefs. If you feel the need to drag us into your fight (are you seriously worried that we're running out of our own?), point to the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as analogous to your situation. Of course, the only problem with this analogy is that historically the only "world uprisings" provoked by libeling the Jews have been those directed at the Jews, something an Archbishop of the Catholic Church should know as well as anyone.
More DVC posts here, here, here and here.