Church Groups Ramp Up Anti-'Da Vinci' Campaigns

May 17, 2006 — -- As fans eagerly await the opening of "The Da Vinci Code" in the United States on Friday, Christian protests against the film have reached a fever pitch and include criticisms from Vatican officials, who are fuming.

Monsignor Angelo Amato, the second in command in the Vatican's influential doctrinal department, said the fictional work contains slander, offenses and errors, and if "they were directed toward the Koran or the Holocaust [they] would have justifiably provoked a worldwide revolt," he said. "Yet because they were directed toward the Catholic Church, they remain unpunished."

Cardinal Francis Arinze, believed to be a leading contender for pope last year, has called for "legal actions."

"Is 'The Da Vinci Code' anti-Catholic?" San Francisco's Archbishop George H. Niederauer asked in the archdiocesan newspaper Catholic San Francisco. "Well, sure it is. The book is at least as anti-Catholic as it is anti-Christian."

Telling Their Own Story

When the movie opens this weekend, Catholic bishops in the United States will release a documentary refuting "The Da Vinci Code" for its claims of secret imagery in the painting of "The Last Supper," claims they say have no artistic or scriptural basis.

Their effort is part of this global campaign against the movie, which stars Tom Hanks.

In London, church representatives have gone to movie theaters to distribute 300,000 "fact versus fiction" scratch cards about details in the movie. For example, one item reads: "Among the fictional points noted, the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is a matter of historical record." That would be fiction, the card says.

In Thailand this week, church leaders tried to get the movie's last 10 minutes clipped.

On Sunday, the Greek Orthodox Church's supreme body will issue a leaflet calling the film "ridiculous," "false" and "treacherous."

At the Cannes Film Festival today, the creative forces behind the film tried to quell the controversy.

"This is not a documentary. This is not something that is pulled up and says, 'These are the facts and this is what happened,'" said Hanks.

"My advice is, since virtually no one has really seen the movie yet, is to not go and see the movie if you think you are going to be upset. Wait, talk to somebody who has seen it, discuss it, and then arrive at an opinion about the movie itself," said the film's director Ron Howard. "This is supposed to be entertainment. It's not theology. I don't think it should be misunderstood as such."

One actor's comments, however, seem likely to only inflame matters, because he questions whether what is in the Bible is true.

Ian McKellan, who plays Sir Leigh Teabing in the movie, appeared on the "Today" show this morning and said, "I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying this is fiction."

Taking the Story to Promote Religion

When the film version of Dan Brown's blockbuster novel debuts and kicks off the summer movie season, some Christian activists will use the moment to send a message to Hollywood.

Former nun Barbara Nicolosi said that during opening weekend, Christian filmgoers should unite and see another movie, such as the animated comedy "Over the Hedge."

"We have power. We showed that in 'The Passion of the Christ.' We want Christians to get together to see something that is not trashing our faith," Nicolosi said.

Bible teacher Wesley Scott disagreed, and said a boycott wouldn't work. "This film is going to be a blockbuster," Scott said.

So he took another strategy and packed the pews at New Testament Baptist Church in Miami this week to rebut points in the film and to renew interest in his faith.

But how to respond to this movie continues to challenge religious leaders, who disagree over what is the Christian thing to do.

Avery Miller and Jennifer Duck contributed to this report