Religious Groups Wary of 'Da Vinci Code' Movie

ByABC News
August 19, 2005, 1:05 PM

Aug. 19, 2005 — -- Filming of "The Da Vinci Code," starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou, is well under way all across Europe -- but not all the attention is from paparazzi and fans.

In England this week, Sister Mary Michael, a 61-year-old Roman Catholic nun, prayed for 12 hours in protest outside historic Lincoln Cathedral.

That's where Hanks and director Ron Howard were shooting the adaptation of a novel whose plot questions much of Christian theology, proposing that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child.

"When I die," Sister Mary Michael said, "and I have to stand before almighty God -- as everyone else will, whether they believe it or not -- and he says to me, 'What have you done to defend me?' I can say, 'Well, I tried to come forward at Lincoln Cathedral.' "

She's not the only one coming forward.

The scene was shot at Lincoln Cathedral rather than Westminster Abbey because Abbey officials refused the filmmakers' request to use their site. They cited the book's "contentious and wayward religious and historic suggestions." So film crews at Lincoln Cathderal re-created Westminster's elaborate screen, the altar, and the grave of Isaac Newton.

Lincoln officials decided it was worth the increased tourism, not to mention a reported donation of 100,000 British pounds (almost $180,000) from the makers of the film.

"It's given us an opportunity to talk to people about 'The Da Vinci Code,' about Westminster Abbey and about Lincoln, and sometimes about the faith that we represent," said John Campbell, an official at Lincoln Cathedral.

It all illustrates what seems an impossible challenge for the filmmakers.

"The Da Vinci Code" has two notable characteristics -- record-breaking sales of more than 25 million books worldwide in 44 languages, and a plot that has been decried by Catholic leaders as heretical.

"It could popularize even further certain distortions of the Christian faith which we think appear in the book," said Monsignor Frank Maniscsalco of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those include "the fallacies about Jesus' life, questions over his divinity, that he has descendants."