The Vatican may call for a boycott of the upcoming movie Angels & Demons, the prequel to The Da Vinci Code, although it’s more likely to urge the faithful to simply ignore it.

The official newspaper of the Italian bishops, Avvenire, wrote March 20 that the Church “cannot approve” of such a movie, while a March 21st article in the Italian daily La Stampa claimed the Vatican could call for a boycott of the latest adaptation of a Dan Brown anti-Catholic potboiler, as happened with The Da Vinci Code.

So far, the Vatican has officially declined to comment on whether it will call for a boycott.

The movie sees Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks reprise his role as Harvard professor Robert Langdon. This time, however, instead of battling a murderous “Opus Dei monk,” Langdon is on a mission to save the Vatican from a secret sect called the Illuminati that wishes to blow it up with a canister of antimatter.

The storyline also includes the murder of four cardinals during a conclave at the Vatican to elect a pope. Shot entirely in Rome and directed by Academy Award winner Ron Howard, it begins showing at the nation’s theaters May 15.

Writing in Avvenire, historian and theologian Gianni Gennari invited Catholics to ignore the film, saying it “exploits the Church in order to swell the coffers of the filmmakers.”

Such a movie, he wrote, “is of general interest to fans of Big Brother and soap operas, but certainly not to those who can distinguish between good and evil, and recognize that the red thread running through the Church is that of martyrs.”

Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, president of the prefecture for Economic Affairs at the Vatican, said speaking out against the film too vociferously could boomerang on the Church.

The La Stampa article quoted him as saying that to “dramatize the issue” would “inadvertently give publicity” to the film and that the Church must “be careful not to play their game.”

He recalled the historical precedent of when Origen, the great third-century theologian, took the heretic Celsus to task for denying the divinity of Christ. Origen wrote a magisterial work, called Contra Celsus, that refuted Celsus’ ideas.

“Without Origen, nobody would know who Celsus was,” said Archbishop De Paolis.

His view was echoed by another Vatican official contacted by the Register.

“You risk being drawn into a publicity seeking game,” he said, and remembered similar problems when The Da Vinci Code came out. While he was working in an archdiocese, he recalls responding to enquirers by saying: “It’s not the habit of the archbishop to provide reviews of works of fiction.”

He said no internal requests had been made to issue an official statement on the film, and added: “From what I’ve seen on this film, and what I’ve read in the papers, it seems they [the filmmakers] are trying to draw attention to it, such as when they tried to film in Rome churches and made a big thing about being refused. The truth is, such prohibitions from filming are issued all the time.”

He was referring to last summer when Sony Pictures was forbidden from filming the movie in Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria. The crew was forced to create an artificial setting in the nearby town of Caserta instead.

Many press reports claimed that the Vatican had issued a special ban in view of the nature of the film. But speaking to the Register at the time, Father Marco Fibbi, spokesman for the Vicariate of Rome, stressed the reports were misleading as the Diocese of Rome regularly refuses permission for films to be made on Church property if the picture is “not in line with our concept of respect for the Church and the people of the Church.”

Although Archbishop De Paolis is against any official boycott, he said any individual decision by Catholics not to see the film would naturally be “absolutely reasonable” because Angels & Demons mixes reality and fantasy, leading to “distorting the historical reality of the Church.”

The archbishop, who also served as secretary of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, said the Vatican was unaffected over the film.

“Christians are strong, vaccinated through centuries of persecution and testimonies to the faith,” he said. “[They] are very able to seek refuge from those who want to confuse what we believe through denigrating the Catholic Church and using a false reconstruction of Christianity.”

Opus Dei priest Father John Wauck, who set up a successful blog debunking The Da Vinci Code, said that the book is a “muddle” and has a “particularly misleading” vision of the Church’s relationship with modern science.

“For the Church, faith is in perfect harmony with reason, but the book pretends that faith and reason are natural antagonists,” he said. “On the other hand, the long-term effect of Angels & Demons — like that of The Da Vinci Code — is probably going to be not a decrease in church attendance, but rather an increase in Roman tourism.”

And he argued that the book isn’t totally without merit, and quoted page 118 of the book: “Peter is the rock. Peter’s faith in God was so steadfast that Jesus called Peter ‘the rock’ — the unwavering disciple on whose shoulders Jesus would build his Church. On this very location, Langdon realized — Vatican Hill — Peter had been crucified and buried. The early Christians built a small shrine over his tomb. As Christianity spread, the shrine got bigger, layer upon layer, culminating in this colossal basilica. The entire Catholic faith had been built, quite literally, upon St. Peter — The Rock.”

“Okay, it’s not Quo Vadis by Sienkiewicz,” said Father Wauck, “but it’s not a bad starting point for someone interested in learning more about Christianity.”

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.