American novelist’s tales of Vatican plots decried by church
Rome — There’s talk all over Italy of a sinister plot set to unfold during the coming conclave to elect a new pope.
Here’s the catch: It’s fiction, or mostly fiction.
“They are the books of the moment,” said Ray Esteves Nepomuceno, the manager of a bookstore in Rome’s main train station.
They are also the first thing his customers see when entering his shop – a huge pile of the two books by Brown, including an illustrated Italian edition of “The Da Vinci Code.”
It’s hard to find Romans who have not read his best-selling works, and sales have been boosted by a recent condemnation by the Roman Catholic Church.
Massimiliano Mariani was on an airport shuttle bus last week with a copy of “Angeli e Demoni” tucked under his arm. The book revolves around murder, a secret society of scientists sent underground by the church some four centuries ago, the kidnap of cardinals and the threatened destruction of the Vatican.
His friend, Giovanni di Pillo of Florence, had read “The Da Vinci Code,” a novel full of murder plots, secret Catholic societies and a theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers and produced a child whose legacy continues today.
“This story of Jesus with a woman,” di Pillo said. “It’s an original idea, a very beautiful idea.”
Last month, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone used a Vatican Radio broadcast to urge all Catholics to boycott “The Da Vinci Code,” becoming the highest-ranking member of the church to condemn it.
“My appeal is as follows,” he said. “Don’t read and don’t buy ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ “
By then, however, the book had been translated into more than 40 languages and had sold an estimated 20 million copies worldwide.
To make matters worse for the church, a movie version starring Tom Hanks is in the offing.
Bertone said the controversial book “falsifies the figure of Christ and the events central to the Christian experience.”
The death of Pope John Paul II and the election of his successor could help Brown sell more books, said Pier Pasquale, who walked up to the pile of Brown’s books in the train station, looked through both books and bought a copy of “The Da Vinci Code” for 25 euros, about $33.
“It’s just a novel, but it does seem more interesting now with the death of the pope,” he said.
In “The Da Vinci Code,” Brown has the bad guys working for Opus Dei, a real-life, ultraconservative Catholic movement that won many favors from Pope John Paul II and is said to be close to a few of the cardinals mentioned as leading candidates in the coming conclave.
In Latin, Opus Dei means “God’s Work.” Critics say that the organization of more than 80,000 — most of them from the laity and many of them holding top jobs in professions such as law, medicine, media and banking — is too elitist, inculcates unthinking devotion among its followers and encourages secretive practices, including self-flagellation and the wearing of hair shirts.
John Paul made clear his favor for Opus Dei during his papacy by giving it the status of a personal prelature, roughly a kind of international diocese that does not have to report to a local bishop, choosing one of his new cardinals from Opus Dei’s ranks and bestowing the honor of sainthood on the organization’s founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.
The book also asserts that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and that she fled Jerusalem with his child after his crucifixion.
Brown and some fringe Bible scholars cite alleged evidence that the story about Jesus and Mary Magdalene may be true.
But then anything may be true.
Well, not exactly anything.
Massimo Stinco, on the same bus as Mariani, noted some parts of “The Da Vinci Code” that he said are preposterous — high-speed driving across Rome, for one.
“They go from place to place in Rome in 20 minutes. Nobody does that,” he said. “They go from the Pantheon to Piazza Navona in a minute. Even in helicopter you can’t do that.”
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