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'Da Vinci Code' as an Opportunity for the Church

Interview With Philippe Oswald of Famille Chrétienne

ROME, MAY 17, 2006 (Zenit) - This week's release of the film "The Da Vinci Code" could turn out to be positive, says the head of a French weekly magazine.

"An opportunity has been given to us to show the true face of the Church," affirmed Philippe Oswald, editor in chief of Famille Chrétienne.

In this interview, Oswald shared his views about the Dan Brown novel and about the conclusions of a survey on the book's impact on the Church in France.

Q: On the occasion of the release of the film "The Da Vinci Code," you are publishing a survey carried out with IPSOS Institute. What are the important points of this survey?

Oswald: Out of every 10 people, without distinctions of categories, questioned in France by IPSOS on Christ and the Church, three thought that Jesus certainly or probably never existed; one judged that he was an impostor; only two affirmed his divine nature. Seven said he changed nothing in their lives; eight thought the Church was an invention of men.

It is futile to underline how this result confirms the growing distancing of the French from the faith and simple Christian culture.

In this sample, of 1,000 individuals surveyed, 21% had read and 47% had heard talk about the novel "The Da Vinci Code." Adding both, 68% of people surveyed, more than two-thirds, knew more or less what it is about, obviously a considerable ratio!

However, the survey has confirmed some disquieting differences among those who had read or had heard talk about the novel, and those who had no idea of its content.

For example, close to half -- 48% -- of readers of the book do not see in Jesus anything other than a man, as opposed to less than a third -- 29% -- of those who have not read it.

The readers of the book were induced to think that Jesus did not resurrect; among them, the ratio of those who deny the resurrection is 10.7% higher in relation to those who did not know the novel.

They also no longer think that the Church has a positive role -- 14% more than those who do not know the book.

More than one-fourth -- 26.4% -- of those who have not read the book think that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife or mistress; this figure is already impressive. But of those who have read the book, close to half -- 48.3% -- came to this conclusion! Does this not call the Church to an examination of conscience?

Q: How do you explain the passion for this film and the police intrigue invented by Dan Brown?

Oswald: Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained the strange success of a novel obstinately anti-Christian such as "The Da Vinci Code" by noting "the extreme cultural poverty of a good part of Christians who often do not know how to give reasons for their hope."

"The Da Vinci Code" is certainly a "thriller" full of twists. But its success is still strange, if one considers the number of implausibilities it accumulates, not only in regard to the Church but to history in general, including art history -- what it says about Leonardo da Vinci, supposedly affiliated to a "Priory of Sion," founded in fact by an illuminati in 1956, should make it lose all credibility.

Having said this, the enthusiasm is also explained by the masses' fondness for conspiracy theories and the growing challenge to religions, which also affects Christianity, and which is particularly addictive among the old prejudices against the Catholic Church, allegedly "totalitarian" because it is hierarchical. What is more, the Church has the audacity to warn persistently about moral behavior.

The magisterium's positions on unconditional respect for life, from conception until death, and heterosexual and indissoluble marriage, attract a priori challenge or rejection.

However, the Church is "saved" for a majority of people surveyed, whether or not they read the book, because of its humanitarian commitment. At least, this is how we interpret the 63% of positive and very positive answers from the totality of people questioned, but with the 14-point gap as already indicated by the readers of "The Da Vinci Code," compared to those who have not heard talk about the book.

Q: As editor in chief of a Catholic family weekly, why do you feel it is important to report on controversial aspects of Dan Brown's history?

Oswald: Within a few days, on May 17, the manipulation of "The Da Vinci Code" novel will reach new levels with the premičre in Cannes of the film inspired by it.

Dan Brown's ruminations on the alleged "secrets" of the Church, Jesus' person, his relations with Mary Magdalene, the "invention" of Christianity by Emperor Constantine, or the dark intentions attributed to Opus Dei, will have a redoubled impact on spectators who, in the majority, have but a vague idea of the Catholic religion. It would be discouraging.

But we can also say that an opportunity has been given to us to show the true face of the Church. Not only does it have nothing to hide, but comes out into the open to proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

Moreover, our survey also reveals that if 30% of people who read the book think that it is essentially "rather true," 30% judge it "completely false." Without prejudging the effect the film will have, does this not "draw" open avenues for a strategy of communication, or better, of evangelization?

We have conceived our reply to "The Da Vinci Code" in the spirit of judo -- that sport of nonviolent combat, which consists in turning the adversary's force against him. It consists of a series of four numbers [of Famille Chrétienne] -- May 13, 20, 27 and June 4 -- with surveys, interviews, feature articles, etc.

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Da Vinci Code, Church, Catholic, Oswald, France

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