If "such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust," said Archbishop Angelo Amato, the Vatican's secretary for the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, "they would have justly provoked a world uprising."
The archbishop was speaking of "The Da Vinci Code," the Ron Howard film that debuts at Cannes and opens worldwide this week, and is expected to gross $500 million by summer's end.
The archbishop's point is undeniable. Blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, published a few months ago in a Danish newspaper and reprinted on the front pages of Europe's major papers, ignited demonstrations in Muslim communities across Europe and violent and deadly riots across the Islamic world.
Leaders friendly to the West, from Egypt to Afghanistan, felt compelled to denounce the cartoons, as did many in the West, as a provocation and insult to the faith of a billion people.
In the 1990s, the British novelist Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a "fatwa" calling for his killing for publishing the blasphemous "Satanic Verses." In the 1970s, the film "Muhammad," starring Anthony Quinn, was pulled from many U.S. theaters after bomb threats. The film had offended Muslim faithful by showing the face of Muhammad.
Last February, British historian David Irving, whose books on World War II have sold in the millions, was convicted in an Austrian court of Holocaust denial and sentenced to three years in prison. His crime: In two speeches in Austria in 1989, Irving asserted there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. Though he recanted in court, it did not save him. Prosecutors felt his sentence was too light.
Karen Pollock of Great Britain's Holocaust Education Trust applauded the verdict: "Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism dressed up as intellectual debate. It should be regarded as such and treated as such."
In nine countries of Europe, Holocaust denial is a crime. In the United States, to deny the Holocaust happened or suggest that it has been exaggerated is not a crime, but marks one down as a social leper.
If you would know who wields cultural power, ask yourself: Whom is it impermissible to offend? Thus the hoopla attending the release of "The Da Vinci Code," based on the Dan Brown novel that has sold 7 million copies in the United States, tells us something about whose God it is permissible to mock and whose faith one is allowed to assault.
For what "The Da Vinci Code" says is that Roman Catholicism is a gigantic fraud, that the church has for centuries been perpetrating a monstrous hoax, duping hundreds of millions into believing something it knows is a bald-faced lie. At the novel's heart lies the contention that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, that they had a daughter, that the Vatican has known this and been hiding the descendants of Jesus, that Opus Dei is a secret order whose agents will engage in murder to protect the secret.
Leonardo da Vinci's painting "The Last Supper" is said to hold the secret, as Jesus is portrayed touching the hand of the youngest apostle, John, who holds the place of honor at his side -- and who is, on close inspection, Mary Magdalene.
In Catholic teaching and tradition, the Holy Grail is the chalice that contained the blood of Jesus. In the book, the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene, carrying the flesh and blood of Jesus in her womb.
If "The Da Vinci Code" is based upon facts, no other conclusion follows
than that to be a Catholic is either to be in on this fraud or to be the dupe of those perpetuating it. But if it is fiction, why would Hollywood put out so viciously anti-Catholic a film that can only have the effect of undermining the faith of millions of Christians?
Putting "The Da Vinci Code" on film, with what it alleges about the Catholic Church, is the moral equivalent of making a movie based on the "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and implying this is the truth about the Jewish plot to control the world. One imagines Ron Howard and Tom Hanks would take a pass on that script.
Like the "Hitler's Pope" smear of Pius XII, a man who did more than any other to save the Jews in World War II, "The Da Vinci Code" is a Big Lie that, though readily refuted by the facts, will be believed.
But that it will be a box-office smash, that it is the subject of lavish praise in the press, that it is the best-selling novel of the 21st century, tells us we live not just in a post-Christian era, but in an anti-Catholic culture not worth defending or saving, for it is truly satanic.