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 Da Vinci Code is fiction trading as fact. We believe the Da Vinci Code 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 Da Vinci Code 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 Da Vinci Code 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".
To take one of countless possible examples: Dan Brown indicates on his 'fact' page that the eleventh-century Priory of Sion "is a real organisation". It is not. It is an elaborate 1950s hoax by a French monarchist who was imprisoned for fraud and embezzlement. (see www.priory-of-sion.com)
Or another example: Dan Brown's claim made through Professor Teabing that the early Church did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, an idea he says was imposed by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. Yet the canonical gospels of the New Testament, written within 100 years of Jesus' death,constantly allude to his divinity. Jesus' bodily Resurrection vividly attested to in the Gospels, as well as Paul's Epistles is seen as proof of this; and testimony to Jesus as God fills the writings of Tertullian (160-225AD), Irenaeus (130-200AD), and other church fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, etc.) long before the era of Constantine.
We don't take the book and the film seriously. But we do take the Da Vinci Code's readers and its future viewers seriously. Most of them know not all of it can be true; but many want to know how far it is true; or, if it isn't true, what is? We are on hand to answer those questions.
Insofar as it is taken seriously, the Da Vinci Code gives a damaging and grotesque version of Jesus, the Church, Opus Dei, and the history of Christianity. It acts as a vehicle for a New Age rehash of the Gnostic gospels, a collection of writings made long after the canonical gospels of the New Testament, writings which stripped Jesus of his divinity, and which were rejected by the early Church as false.
The Da Vinci Code also portrays the Church as being engaged in a 2,000-year-old coverup of Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene, using murder and violence to suppress the "eternal feminine" in order to maintain male-dominated corporate power. It thus makes the Church sound more like a nefarious modern corporation than our communion of believers "God's family on earth" in the recent words of Pope Benedict XVI.
Opus Dei members are not murderers, masochists or misogynists. They are people living out the Gospel in ordinary life. Most are women. Women and men have equal status within the organisation, which was founded in Spain in 1928 in order to support people finding God in their daily lives and work. Opus Dei has no "monks". Almost all of its 86,000 members worldwide are lay people, either married (supernumeraries) or celibate (numeraries); the rest are priests. Monks live in monasteries under a rule and take a vow of stability.
Opus Dei asked Sony Corp. to remove references to it in the film. Sony ignored the request. It is a serious matter when the good name of an organisation is defamed in this way. We cannot help wondering if Sony Corp. would allow itself to be portrayed as murderous mafiosi in a Hollywood film without calling in the lawyers.
The Da Vinci Code Response Group believes that there are good reasons in contemporary society for weighing artistic licence and freedom of expression against respect for the good name of organisations and individuals as well as their beliefs. No one is above criticism and the need for accountability; but claims need to be tested against the evidence.
It is not enough to hide behind the claim undermined by Dan Brown's "Fact" page - that the novel is fiction. To give just one example of destructive fiction from recent history: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion fuelled the anti-Semitism that led to the gas chamber. Even as fiction, Art has a responsibility to the truth.
We do not believe that by drawing attention to this film we are giving it publicity. This is likely to be one of the most widely-watched films in movie history, because of its built-in fan base of 40 million readers. Whether or not we make this statement will not alter that fact.
Our first message to people planning to see the film is: enjoy yourselves, but do not believe anything in it. The Da Vinci Code is fiction trading as fact.
Our second message is: the story of the real Jesus is much more compelling than the gospel according to Dan Brown. Enjoy yourselves; then discover for yourselves the real thing.
The Da Vinci Code Response Group
Co-ordinator: (Dr) Austen Ivereigh, Director for Public Affairs of the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
(Fr) Christopher Jamison OSB, Abbot of Worth
Jack Valero, Communications Director, Opus Dei UK.
Clare Czerwinke, Opus Dei
(Fr) John Hemer, Lecturer in Scripture at Allen Hall
Fergal Martin, General Secretary, Catholic Truth Society
(Dr) Gemma Simmonds CJ, Heythrop College
(Dr) Janet Martin Soskice, theologian specialising in symbol and metaphor, Jesus College Cambridge
Maggie Roux, Senior Lecturer in Film at Leeds Trinity and All Saints College
Melissa Morton, Opus Dei
(Fr) Peter Scally SJ, Jesuit Media Initiatives
Resources are also available on the website of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation. See: www.caseresources.org/
LONDON - 5 May 2006 - 1,196 words