Catholics Riot At Theaters!

The following is something you are not likely to read in The New York Times “Week in Review” section for Sunday, May 28, 2006.

HOLLYWOOD — Riots still rage across the nation despite attempts by author Dan Brown to quiet them.

In the wake of last weekend’s outbreaks of violence in Detroit, Houston, Seattle and New York, Brown reiterated his claims that The Da Vinci Code should be entertaining, not upsetting.

But his statement, did little to quell the controversy, which is bringing more people out to the streets than to the box office.

Brown was interviewed by Internet video linkup from an undisclosed location because of numerous threats against his life. He has not been seen for a month entering or leaving his New Hampshire estate, which is under heavy guard in the wake of threats from some Quebec separatists.

A spokesman for the Quebecois splinter group Les Brigades Splendides de Saint-Pius V (The Glorious Brigades of St. Pius V) claimed late last month to have enough weaponry to “infiltrate the hiding place of the infidel.”

Meanwhile, thousands of Christians mobbed theaters on the film’s opening night, May 19, chanting “Christus Vincit! Christus Regnat! Christus Imperat!” (“Christ Conquers! Christ is King! Christ is Lord of all!”).

There were scattered reports of scuffles between the Christians and moviegoers, some of whom were there to see other films.

In a dozen cities, there were reports that the Christian demonstrators blocked entrances to theaters. In New York, a box office window was smashed, and the clerk was taken to a local hospital for minor cuts.

The kerfuffle did not die down by Saturday night. Even larger crowds, many of whom went straight from hearing condemnatory sermons at evening Mass to their local theaters, came out to protest, and the number of cities seeing demonstrations double.

Tensions died down on Sunday, though a number of Christian leaders appeared on talk shows defending the actions of the crowds. “This film, and the book upon which it is based, is an insult to Christians throughout the world,” said New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan on “Meet the Press With Tim Russert.”

On the West Coast, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony refused to distance himself from threats against Sony Pictures, which released The Da Vinci Code movie. A group calling itself the Militia of the Angels has said on its website that Sony faces “eternal flames and endless years of anguish” if it went ahead with the release. Cardinal Mahony told CNN’s Delia Gallagher, “I believe they were speaking metaphorically.”

Police have been unable to find the militia’s leaders, who use their website to issue daily “anathemas” — somewhat analogous to “fatwas” — against Dan Brown, director Ron Howard and financiers of the film.

But Cardinal Mahony, who heads a flock largely made up of Mexican-Americans, commented, “The real crime is the insensitivity on the part of those responsible for this film.” He complained that the “simple faith of millions of Catholics” has been attacked by the story’s premise — that Jesus fathered children and that the Church has been suppressing that secret since the time of Constantine.

Meanwhile, an international incident erupted when representatives of Sony and Doubleday, the novel’s publisher, refused a meeting with the papal nuncio to the United States and ambassadors from three predominantly Catholic countries: the Philippines, Malta and Costa Rica. The diplomats, joined by the papal nuncio to the United Nations, demanded an apology from the publisher and producers.

Indeed, the Hollywood event is already having worldwide repercussions. Workers in France — once considered the “eldest daughter of the Church” — went on a one-day strike Friday to show their solidarity with Christians who are offended by the story. The whodunit takes place in Paris and London. Italian unions also were considering a work stoppage.

In the United States, however, moderate Christians have sought to distance themselves from their predominantly Catholic and evangelical co-religionists. The National Council of Churches issued a statement Monday calling for “respect for all religions and a spirit of tolerance when different ideas are put forward in the public square.”

Nevertheless, Dan Brown may be in hiding for a very long time. Though Opus Dei, the group that plays a large role in the novel, has been quiet since the film’s opening night, there are rumors that top commanders in the organization have been in talks with the Blue Army and the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher.

Said a spokesman for the Catholic peace group Pax Christi, “They’re preparing for a holy war.”

John Burger is the

Register’s news editor.