- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

From combined dispatches

VATICAN CITY — If you’re not among the millions who already have read “The Da Vinci Code,” an Italian cardinal has a plea for you: Don’t read it and don’t buy it.

“Don’t buy this. Don’t read this, because this is rotten food,” said Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the highest-ranking Catholic leader to speak out against the bestselling novel.

In an interview inside the Vatican, Cardinal Bertone also said Catholic bookstores should take the thriller off their shelves and accused U.S. author Dan Brown of “deplorable” behavior.

The book — which in two years has become the No. 1 bestselling adult novel of all time — is an international murder mystery centered on attempts to uncover a secret about the life of Jesus that a clandestine society has tried to protect for centuries.

The story line that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and has descendants that are alive today has outraged many Christians and has been dismissed by historians and theologians.

Cardinal Bertone, who once was a high-ranking official of the Vatican’s office on doctrinal orthodoxy, told Vatican Radio on Tuesday that the runaway success of the novel is proof of “anti-Catholic” prejudice.

“The distribution strategy has been absolutely exceptional marketing, even at Catholic bookstores — and I’ve already complained about the Catholic bookshops, which, for profit motives, have stacks of this book,” said Cardinal Bertone, the archbishop of Genoa, who has been mentioned as a successor to Pope John Paul II.

One bookstore selling “The Da Vinci Code” is in Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic, a Catholic hospital where the pope spent a total of 28 days in two stays in February and March.

According to publisher Doubleday, 25 million copies of the book have been printed in 44 languages since it was published in 2003. It also has spawned a slew of spinoff titles.

A planned film version by Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, is expected in May 2006.

As such, Cardinal Bertone is not so much leading the Vatican’s assault on the book as fighting a rear-guard action.

Mr. Brown’s agent in New York said the author was “incommunicado,” writing a new book, and was not expected to reply to Cardinal Bertone.

However, on his Web site, Mr. Brown rejects charges that the book is anti-Catholic.

“The book is a novel, and therefore, a work of fiction,” he says “The book is not anti-anything. … The vast majority of devout Christians understand this fact and consider ‘The Da Vinci Code’ an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate.”

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