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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Catholics Disagree On Da Vinci Novel

ROME -- An Opus Dei priest is blogging about the "The Da Vinci Code." A cardinal is hinting at lawsuits. Another church official praises the flamboyant plot as a great thriller. Still others worry that generations of Catholics could be ruined by it.

Here at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, a debate is raging over how to confront the phenomenon that is "The Da Vinci Code," the blockbuster novel that may become a blockbuster movie following its premiere Wednesday at the Cannes Film Festival.

There is little dispute over the disdain with which Catholic officials regard the premise of Dan Brown's story -- that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child, an idea that challenges the divinity of Christ, a central tenet of Christianity. Senior Vatican prelates have branded the tale a despicable distortion of history and theology.

But what to do about it? Ignoring or boycotting a book that has already sold 40 million copies doesn't seem a very efficient tactic at this point. Does complaining very publicly just add to the buzz?

Father John Wauck, an American priest with the Opus Dei prelature, said "The Da Vinci Code" was laughable from start to finish, a comedy of errors that "defies serious reading." But the impact of the story is something else altogether. Wauck believes that the popular appeal of the book underscores the failure of the organized church to adequately educate its followers.

The release of the movie, directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard, only adds to Wauck's sense of urgency.

"The cultural phenomenon is very important and must be taken seriously," Wauck said. "It shows our ignorance over art, history, theology, scripture, and that's not Dan Brown's fault. That's our fault, the fault of the church, of priests and parents who aren't teaching the truth."

Wauck spoke Tuesday at the presentation of a documentary titled "The Da Vinci Code: A Masterful Deception," which offers a range of critical voices, including art historians, scholars and religious leaders. Although the documentary-makers, including Italian journalist Mario Biasetti, said they were not working on behalf of the Vatican, the film is clearly the latest effort by the church to debunk Brown's work.

Lashing out most forcefully in the documentary is Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Vatican's congregation for worship and liturgy, who suggests taking legal means to counter what he sees as the vile content insulting his faith.

"Those who blaspheme Christ and get away with it are exploiting the Christian readiness to forgive and to love even those who insult us," Arinze says. "Christians must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget. Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical."

Wauck, a Chicago native who has lived in Rome for a decade and who teaches at the Opus Dei Santa Croce University, is of the mind that as objectionable as the material might be, the attention generated by "The Da Vinci Code" should be seized as a tool for educating Christians.