[Paleopsych] Guardian: Vatican appoints official Da Vinci Code debunker

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Vatican appoints official Da Vinci Code debunker

    Michelle Pauli
    Tuesday March 15, 2005

    With sales of over 18m copies in 44 languages, topping bestseller
    charts all over the world and earning its author more than £140m, Dan
    Brown's The Da Vinci Code is a global phenomenon. And now it has
    become the first book ever to have an archbishop dedicated to
    debunking its contents.

    Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa and a possible
    successor to the Pope, has been appointed by the Vatican to rebut what
    the Catholic church calls the "shameful and unfounded errors"
    contained within The Da Vinci Code. He is organising a series of
    public debates focusing on the conspiracy theories and what the
    Vatican sees as the blurring of fact and fiction at the heart of the
    thriller, the first of which will be held in Genoa tomorrow.

    The book follows the investigations of a Harvard code expert who is
    looking into the murder of the curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris.
    He discovers a series of clues buried in the works of Leonardo Da
    Vinci and, by deciphering riddles and anagrams, uncovers the secrets
    of the holy grail: that Jesus never claimed to be divine, that he
    married Mary Magdalene and had a child with her, that his bloodline
    survived in France and that the grail itself was not a chalice but a
    woman. It is this, along with the book's characterization of the
    international Catholic organization Opus Dei as an extremist cult,
    that has particularly exercised the Vatican.

    "The book is everywhere," Cardinal Bertone told Il Giornale newspaper,
    according to a report in The Times today. "There is a very real risk
    that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains
    are true. [Dan Brown] even perverts the story of the holy grail, which
    most certainly does not refer to the descendants of Mary Magadalene.
    It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies."

    The 70-year-old cardinal, a former football commentator, has acted as
    deputy to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the
    Doctrine of the Faith. The appointment of such a high-profile defender
    of the church to take up battle against a work of fiction is an
    indication of how upset the Vatican is about the success of the book,
    which has spawned a small publishing industry of its own and is
    currently being made into a film, starring Tom Hanks, to be released
    next year.

    According to David Barrett, a writer on religion and expert on The Da
    Vinci Code, "Members of the Catholic church are particularly upset by
    what they see as the blasphemous suggestion that Jesus may have had
    sex - but there is absolutely no reason theologically why Jesus could
    not have been married and had a family. They are also upset at the way
    the Catholic church and the Vatican are characterised as having
    plotted to cover up the 'truth' about Christianity, and they are
    understandably upset at the characterisation of Opus Dei.

    "Many people think there are genuine concerns about Opus Dei but the
    actions ascribed to them in the novel are completely ridiculous. Apart
    from anything else, they don't have monks."

    As a result of the book's hold over the public's imagination, Opus Dei
    has produced its own response: a 127-page statement which sets out the
    "errors" in the book, and states that "many readers are intrigued by
    the claims about Christian history and theology presented in The Da
    Vinci Code. We would like to remind them it is a work of fiction and
    not a reliable source of information."

    Barrett is dismissive of the bestseller. "It's basically a hack
    thriller, a typical airport book," he says. "The Catholic church are
    overreacting: ultimately, it's only a novel and the controversy will
    eventually die down. On the other hand, the book raises some serious
    questions about the origins of Christianity. Even though it makes many
    glaring historical errors, the fact remains that early Christianity
    did take many variant forms, including Gnostic Christianity, and there
    are genuine issues to be examined. But such examinations should be
    undertaken by competent theologians and historians, not hack thriller
    writers who are very poor at their research."

    Greg Watts, a Catholic author, has similar concerns about Brown's
    credentials. "Dan Brown's concern is to make money rather than teach
    theology. He has found a gullible audience and has played on their
    ignorance," he says. "He gives the readers the impression that they
    understand Christianity when in fact they've been hoodwinked and

    However, Watts also feels that the fact that The Da Vinci Code has
    appealed to such a broad audience presents a challenge to the church:
    "There is a lesson for the church in the success of The Da Vinci Code
    and the lesson is that the church needs to use modern media much more
    effectively to present the Christian message to the new generation."

    A spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and
    Wales, said that they had no plans for any similar 'debunking'

    Dan Brown's publishers were unavailable to comment on the appointment
    of Cardinal Bertone.

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