Dan Brown
The Da Vinci Code
Vatican plots against 'Da Vinci Code'

From Richard Owen in Rome

THE Vatican has appointed a top cardinal to rebut what it says are the lies, distortions and errors in Dan Brown’s bestselling thriller The Da Vinci Code.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa and a possible successor to the Pope, immediately took up the fight yesterday by claiming that the novel was a deliberate attempt to discredit the Roman Catholic Church through absurd and vulgar falsifications.

At the heart of the book is the notion that the Church has for centuries concealed the fact that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute, and that she bore him a child.

The appointment of Cardinal Bertone, 70, is a clear sign that the Vatican has been rattled by the continuing worldwide success of Brown’s thriller, which has sold 18 million copies in 44 languages in just two years. It is still among the top ten bestsellers in the United States, France, Brazil and Argentina — all countries with huge Catholic populations — and Britain.
The cardinal said that the book reminded him of intemperate anti-clerical pamphlets of the 19th century. He will seek to debunk the conspiracy theories at the heart of the plot in a string of public debates on the work beginning in Genoa tomorrow.
He said he was distressed to discover that even Catholic bookshops were selling the book. “We are clearly facing a formidable distribution strategy here,” he said.
“The book is everywhere. There is a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true.”
A perceived blurring of fact and fiction has caused the Vatican to act. Andrea Tornielli, a papal biographer, said it was particularly alarmed at the sight of tourists in Rome using The Da Vinci Code as a guide to Christianity.
The cardinal, a former football commentator, is noted for his human touch, but he nonetheless wields considerable doctrinal authority within the Church. He has acted as deputy to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
His latest task is “to unmask the lies” so that readers can see how “shameful and unfounded” the book is. One of his first steps will be to debunk the suggestion that the Church has become male dominated and has buried its feminine side, Cardinal Bertone told Il Giornale newspaper. “In fact the female element is ever present in the Gospels, not least in the person of the Virgin Mary.”
He insisted that the trial, death and resurrection of Christ were indisputable. Evidence, he said, came from the accounts of disciples who, as former fishermen, were hard-headed realists. He accused Brown of relying on apocryphal texts that had been excluded from the biblical canon precisely because they were imaginative.
“He even perverts the story of the Holy Grail, which most certainly does not refer to the descendants of Mary Magadalene,” Cardinal Bertone said. “It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies.”
The cardinal also insisted that Brown was wrong to suggest that the organisation Opus Dei was a sinister and conspiratorial body prepared to resort to murder.
The book has earned Brown an estimated ?140 million and a film based on it starring Tom Hanks will be released next year. Sony Pictures bought the film rights for ?3.1 million.
It has spawned numerous spin-off books, including The Da Vinci Hoax and The Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code.

Robert Langdon, Professor of Symbology at Harvard, has to solve the murder of Jacques Sauniere, curator of the Louvre. Sauniere’s body is found in the museum with a cryptic message on his torso. Sauniere was head of the Priory of Sion, an organisation devoted to preserving secrets of the Holy Grail, the message being his dying attempts to alert his grand-daughter, Sophie Neveu . Langdon and Neveu track the secret down in a battle of wits with Opus Dei, which wants to suppress that the Holy Grail is not a chalice but the body of Mary Magdalene, who married Christ and had his child; that Jesus had intended her to follow him as leader of the Church; that she was pregnant at the time of the Crucifixion, after which she fled to Gaul; that she gave birth to a daughter, Sarah, and that Jesus’s bloodline became the Merovingian dynasty. The novel’s climax happens in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey.
March 15, 2005

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