Tuesday, December 11, 2007


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has withdrawn a positive review of the film “The Golden Compass,” after more than a week of criticism about the church’s apparent approval of a pro-atheism work.

The review, which had said that the film “can be viewed as an exciting adventure story with, at its core, a traditional struggle between good and evil, and a generalized rejection of authoritarianism,” was not available on the USCCB.org Web site last night.

The bishops gave no reason for pulling the review, according to the Catholic News Service.

Pete Vere, a Catholic canon lawyer from Ontario, said last night that several church officials had told him they were concerned that the review by critics Harry Forbes and John Mulderig lacked any context and left the impression the bishops approved of atheist Philip Pullman‘s work as a whole.

Mr. Pullman has said his “Dark Materials” trilogy, which are centered on a villain called the Magisterium and end with man killing God, are attempts to destroy the Christian faith. The books and movie work in the genre of children’s fantasy with such elements as talking polar bears, which especially sparked concern among many Catholics.

“Harry Forbes was not representing the concerns of Catholics or of parents, which is what the USCCB should do,” said Mr. Vere, a canon lawyer who co-wrote, with historian Sandra Miesel, a book, “Pied Piper of Atheism” about Mr. Pullman’s work and has a Web site atheismforchildren.com devoted to it.

“The Golden Compass” opened atop the box office last weekend, but its $27 million estimated gross compared unfavorably with the performance of such comparable films as the “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Narnia” series and was also small when compared to the $150 million cost of making the film, plus advertising it.

The poor box-office performance and indifferent critical buzz — just a 44 percent share of favorable reviews at the popular site Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com) — put the church in the unexpected position of being one of the film’s highest-profile champions. The original USCCB review, written by Mr. Forbes, has been cited in the film’s ads.

“Secular critics were panning the movie as a poor piece of art, while Catholic critics were concerned with Pullman’s underlying agenda,” Mr. Vere said. “Thus the USCCB review was out of touch with both the secular culture and the Catholic subculture. The bishops need to revisit how that office is run.”

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