Another year, another Catholic outrage against a Dan Brown novel. The latest bout of Church vs fiction concerns ngels & Demons, the first of Brown’s bogus Vatican conspiracy thrillers, the film adaptation of which opens in American theatres on May 15.
The movie is being billed as a “prequel” to The Da Vinci Code, Brown’s notorious and most successful shelf-filler, which Hollywood converted into a boxoffice triumph in 2006. The plot seems typical of Brown’s oeuvre: lots of faux-esoteric drivel about the dark heart of the One False Church. This time it’s something to do with the Illuminati – “a secret society dedicated to scientific truth” – who were (naturally) massacred by Rome, but have come back to wreak their terrible revenge. “Father, if God has issues,” whispers one (presumably Illuminati) character in the trailer, “they won’t be with what we have done... They will be with what we are about to do.” A number of Christians have “issues” with the film, and want to do something about it. So, as with The Da Vinci Code, a media-orchestrated scrap has broken out between wounded members of the faithful and the makers of the film. In the Catholic corner, weighing in with a ton of grievance, is Bill Donohue, the rotund president of the Catholic League: For Religious and Civil Rights. Facing him, representing the God-hating Hollywood establishment, is Ron Howard, the director, better known as ginger-haired Richie Cunningham from Happy Days.
Ding, ding. Donohue goes on the attack, bringing out a $5 Catholic League pamphlet against the forthcoming blockbuster entitled More Demonic than Angelic. He follows with a quick jab from his New York Daily News column. “Once again, the tag team of Dan Brown and Ron Howard have collaborated in smearing the Catholic Church,” he writes, informing his readers that Angels & Demons conveys an “invidious” message. “The Catholic Church, which did more to keep the universities open and flour ishing during the Middle Ages, is painted as anti-reason,” he concludes.
Howard punches back through the internet with an article on the liberal news and gossip website, The Huffington Post. “I guess Mr Donohue and I do have one thing in common,” he writes, “we both like to create fictional tales, as he has done with this silly and mean-spirited work of propaganda.” He counters that neither he nor Angels & Demons is antiCatholic. He argues, provocatively, that “most in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church” would even enjoy the film. “After all, in Angels & Demons, Professor Robert Langdon teams up with the Catholic Church to thwart a vicious attack against the Vatican. What, exactly, is antiCatholic about that?” Donohue can’t resist returning to the offended-offensive. He fires off an angry press release, saying: “Howard must be delusional if he thinks Vatican officials are going to like his propaganda. Moreover, we know from a Canadian priest who hung out with Howard’s crew last summer in Rome (dressed in civilian clothes) just how much they hate Catholicism. It’s time to stop the lies and come clean.” The media crowd laps it up. ABC news reports, with some understatement, that the “feud between Howard and Donohue need not doom the film”. ABC’s Sheila Marikar then lists several “fiction-based” films – she includes, rather shockingly, The Passion of The Christ – which have benefited from the publicity of “rousing religion’s wrath”. The Golden Compass pulled in $372 million. The Harry Potter films have earned $1.5 billion and rising. And, of course, The Da Vinci Code grossed more than $750 million. How Tinseltown's executives must thank God for noisy Catholics like Bill Donohue.