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BY MARTIN MAZLOOMRegister Correspondent
NEW YORK — Opus Dei is one of the villains in The Da Vinci Code.
And although the Dan Brown
blockbuster is fiction, it’s likely that many people will come away from the
film version next month believing that portrayal.
The real Opus Dei already had been
working to counter a bad image as an elitist organization when The Da Vinci Code
was published three years ago.
But as the May 19 release of the
Ron Howard film version approaches, Opus Dei finds itself increasingly in the
media spotlight. Its role in the story as a murderous player in a Church
cover-up has led to its being featured in a front-page article in The New
York Times, and on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” CBS, CNN and
The History Channel.
According to Brian Finnerty, U.S.
media relations director for Opus Dei, the organization’s website (opusdei.org)
received more than 1 million unique visitors in 2005.
“We receive hate mail from people who accept
the premise of the book,” said Finnerty. “Just
several days ago we received a letter addressed to the fictional [Opus Dei]
bishop in the book.”
But Opus Dei sees this time of
scrutiny as an opportunity.
“We’re trying to take advantage of
the attention and channel it for something good,” Finnerty
said. “The novel completely misrepresents what Opus Dei is about. The fictional
Opus Dei is about a monk running around killing people, but the real Opus Dei
is about helping the laity find God in one’s everyday work and life. Our
approach is to get the word out about the true Catholic Church and the real
Sony Pictures, the company
producing and releasing the film, has all but ignored Opus Dei’s
pleas for fairness, according to Finnerty. In January
2004, Father Thomas Bohlin, U.S. vicar of
Opus Dei, sent a letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment Vice Chairman Amy
Pascal, expressing concern over the proposed movie.
“Pascal replied to us in a letter
with polite but very vague assurances,” said Finnerty.
“We were never given a meeting with Pascal or with the people working on the
movie. It was only through media reports that we finally learned that Sony
planned to go ahead with their false and bizarre portrayal of Opus Dei.”
Pascal could not be reached for
comment. But Jim Kennedy, a Sony Pictures Entertainment spokesman, said, “We
certainly understood Opus Dei’s concerns. We
responded by making it clear that we view The
Da Vinci Code as a work of fiction that is not
intended to harm any organization. ... It’s a thriller, not a religious tract.”
Kennedy added, “The Da Vinci Code
is one of the most popular novels in publishing history, with a huge audience
of devoted fans — many of whom, not incidentally, are devout Christians. We
believe that the filmmakers are going to deliver a first-rate thriller that
will entertain audiences, not offend them.”
He pointed out that Sony is
sponsoring a website (thedavincidialogue.com), “where Catholic and other Christian
scholars are contributing essays that explore the foundations of faith and its
impact on history and our lives.”
Said Kennedy, “We recognize the
fact that the story has inspired many conversations about history and religion,
and there is a growing consensus among religious leaders that the release of
the film can provide a unique opportunity to educate people about their work
Finnerty said that it would be hard to
imagine Sony treating another religious group that way.
“We hope Sony would treat the
Church with the same fairness that would be expected in portraying other
religious or ethnic groups,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that Sony is
coming out with a film that treats Christianity as a fraud.”
But Opus Dei has chosen not to
“We don’t see a boycott as
particularly helpful,” Finnerty said. “We believe
it’s more effective to ask Sony if treating the Catholic Church unfairly is
something they want to be identified with.”
Real Opus Dei
The Da Vinci Code features an albino Opus Dei “monk” who murders members
of a secret society while trying to confiscate the Holy Grail. Only there’s a
“There are no monks in Opus Dei —
albino or otherwise,” said Finnerty. “You won’t find
any member of Opus Dei dressed up like the monk in the book. Not even on
Said Terri Carron, a fashion consultant in Southport, Conn.,
and a member of Opus Dei, “Nothing in the book has any basis in reality per
Opus Dei. The
portrayal of Opus Dei was very cartoonish and untrue.”
In reality, Opus Dei (work of God), founded in Spain in 1928, comprises 83,000 lay
members (a small number of whom make a commitment to celibacy) and 2,000
priests worldwide. Its adherents have varying degrees of commitment. Their aim
is to strive for holiness through the ordinary things of their daily life and
The organization is not a
religious order. Its consecrated members are called numeraries
and they call their religious commitments to chastity, poverty and obedience
promises, not vows. St. Josémaria Escrivá,
its founder, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
“The worst thing about the movie
is not what it says about Opus Dei but what it says about Christianity and the
Roman Catholic Church,” said Finnerty. “The novel
plays games with lines between fact and fiction.”
Doubleday is helping to get the
word about the real Opus Dei, too. In fact, Doubleday, which published The Da Vinci Code,
will be publishing St. Josémaria Escrivá’s
collection of points of prayer The Way
“One of the reasons for publishing
it is because it’s a spiritual classic of the 20th century,” said Trace Murphy,
vice president and editorial director of Doubleday’s Religious Publishing
Bill Barry, president and
publisher of Doubleday’s Religious Publishing Division, noted the book’s
“impressive” sales of 4.5 million copies in 43 languages.
“As secular publishers but with
some expertise in religious publishing, we think we can help spread [this
book],” Barry said. “The Way offers
guidance and potential riches to a much larger audience.”
Barry also commented on the
controversy: “There’s been confusion about [The
Da Vinci Code],” he said, “but the bigger
confusion has been not realizing that it’s a work of fiction.”
“A work of fiction, though, can be
hurtful,” Finnerty pointed out.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops is also attempting to counter the distortions and falsehoods being
disseminated by The Da
Vinci Code. The conference recently launched the website jesusdecoded.com
to provide accurate information and corrections to questions raised by Dan
Msgr. Francis Maniscalco,
director of communications for the bishops’ conference, said Opus Dei
contributed to the website.
Opus Dei member Carron says she thinks the movie, starring Tom Hanks, will
have a powerful impact on people.
“It will do damage to people who
are unfamiliar with the Work,” she said, using the alternate term for Opus Dei.
it is clear why Opus Dei is controversial.
“Because it’s Catholic,” she said.
“Just being Catholic is controversial in this culture. Christ was
is based in Los Angeles.