Church Cracks Down on New 'Da Vinci' Film

Once again, the Catholic Church is coming down hard on writer Dan Brown, the author of "The Da Vinci Code."

The producers of Brown's latest thriller to be made into a film, "Angels and Demons," have been banned from filming key scenes inside any church in Rome, on the grounds that the book is "an offense against God," according to a church spokesman.

Led by executive producer/director Ron Howard, the producers sought permission to shoot scenes inside two churches in Rome's historic center for the film adaptation of Brown's prequel to "The Da Vinci Code." The Diocese of Rome, the local church authority for the city, denied them access in early 2007, but the ban was only made public on Monday.

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"Normally, we read the script, but this time it was not necessary," Monsignor Marco Fibbi, spokesman for the Rome Diocese, told the Ansa Italian News Agency. "The name Dan Brown was enough."

Members of the Catholic Church denounced both "The Da Vinci Code" novel when it came out in 2004, and its film version in 2006.

"Angels and Demons" tells the story of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who was also the protagonist in "The Da Vinci Code," and his race to prevent a terrorist plot against the Vatican. Tom Hanks will reprise his role as Langdon for "Angels and Demons," which is scheduled for release in May 2009.

Although not as successful as Brown's subsequent and better known "The Da Vinci Code," the book has still posted strong sales in America and around the world since it was published in 2000.

Two Roman churches -- Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria -- are the settings for scenes in the book and film. In one church, Langdon finds the body of a cardinal who has been buried alive, and in the other, he arrives to find another cardinal burning to death.

The decision to ban the filmmakers from the churches was made public Monday, when an interview with Fibbi was published in the Italian entertainment magazine "Sorrisi e Canzoni TV."

"We don't allow filming in churches every day and when we do, it is usually for documentaries or for historical dramas, Fibbi said. "It is rare that permission is granted to shoot scenes for feature films inside functioning churches, but when allowed, the subject matter must be compatible and not clash with moral and pastoral church values.

"It is easy to understand the motives why permission was denied to film scenes inside Rome churches," Fibbi added, and further explained that the church found the subplot of "The Da Vinci Code" -- a theory in which Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered their children -- "morally offensive" and "harmful to religious feeling."

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then Archbishop of Genoa and now secretary of state and right-hand man to Pope Benedict XVI, described "The Da Vinci Code" as a "phantasmagorical cocktail of inventions" and "a potpourri of lies" in 2005, when it started climbing best-seller lists all over the world.

There are more than 80 million copies of "The Da Vinci Code" in print worldwide, and the book has been translated into 44 languages. "Angels and Demons" has more than 40 million copies in print worldwide.

Church leaders around the world urged their members to boycott the book and film version of "The Da Vinci Code," and protestors showed up outside some early screenings of the film. The film was also bitterly contested by the conservative Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei, which was represented in the film by a ruthless killer monk.

Brown declined to comment on the ban by the Diocese. But the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, was supportive of the decision.

In a statement on the League's Web site, he wrote, "We are delighted that Ron Howard and his Hollywood minions have been denied the opportunity to exploit the Catholic Church again. Any movie about Catholicism which draws on the specious work of Dan Brown is bound to offend Catholic sensibilities, so it was only fitting that Howard was shown the gate."

Donohue told ABCNews.com that, although "Angels and Demons" does not appear to be as "demonizing" of the Catholic Church as "The Da Vinci Code," he is concerned about the way in which Brown mixes fact and fiction in his novels.

"It's this pernicious intertwining," he said. "I'm questioning what he regards as being factual."

But Donohue does not believe that this movie will draw the same ire that its predecessor did, because it does not tackle big theological questions.

"There's a concern any time you have a movie adaptation of a Dan Brown novel," he said. "But I believe the decibel level will be somewhat less."

Howard, who also directed "The Da Vinci Code," started shooting earlier this month in Rome, after the production was delayed by the Writers Guild of America strike, which ended in February.

According to the Ansa news agency, Howard will shoot outside the two churches -- where permission to film is granted solely by the city of Rome -- before recreating the interiors in a Hollywood studio later this year. With filming inside the Vatican out of the question, the filming of a scene at the Vatican staircase will now be shot in a grand villa south of Rome in Caserta.

"I'm sure it's not going to disturb Ron Howard or Dan Brown," Donohue said. "But now they'll have to drop a dime to find some other churches to rip off."

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