All this fuss over one little lady?

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Days before the much-vaunted worldwide première of The Da Vinci Code, a crescendoing chorus of church officials and the faithful are rallying against, protesting, and railing against the movie's debut and, in some cases, pleading for a ban.

Of course, author Dan Brown is probably devising yet another complex code to calculate how many additional dollars will line his pockets as these censorious attempts mount. Publicity, bad or good, drives curiosity and sales. And Brown is already fabulously wealthy from book sales. As Wikipedia notes, the novel, "is a worldwide bestseller with more than 60.5 million copies in print (as of May 2006) and has been translated into 44 languages."

But one wonders, what is prompting such a virulent reaction by the church? In one CNN report online, a Vatican official called the novel a "direct attack" on Roman Catholic doctrine. As one of the book's 60 million-plus readers, I retort, "Relax, it's fiction."

So I called the Washington Archdiocese.we restate this lower, where it appears to work better. ssa I was referred to a Father William Stetson, who works at the Catholic Information Center and, I was told, is a member of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organization portrayed in the book as the villain. Funnily enough, the unnamed gentleman who referred me to Father Stetson said, "Assuming this is a friendly call, I'll give you the number." I said nothing.

When Father Stetson kindly took my call, I asked him why the church is mounting such a huge (and presumably expensive) public-relations campaign against the movie. First he noted, somewhat defensively, that Sony spent a reported $300 million on the movie, so why not? (I'm no churchgoer, nor am I a donor. But if I did contribute to a passing plate on a given Sunday, I'm not sure I'd want my charitable donation going toward an anti-Da Vinci Code media blitz. Sony's dispensation of its for-profit funds is another matter entirely.)

Then I asked Father Stetson directly why the church is so upset over an obviously fictional work. He said, "It's fiction, but it presents itself as fact." Hmmmm. ... Having read it myself, I could not agree less.

Personally, I think the church's defensive posture has more to do with Brown's focus on the "sacred feminine" and his elevation of Mary Magdalene to the role of Jesus's wife and mother of his child. The church has yet to recover from its characterization of Mary as a prostitute, which was retracted in relatively recent times–recent by church standards, that is. As U.S.News & World Report noted:

"For centuries, the Catholic Church painted Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Father Richard McBrien, a Notre Dame theology professor, has speculated that early church leaders took it out on Mary because they were unwilling to believe she was so close to Jesus and were annoyed by the fact that she witnessed the Resurrection. The Church took it all back in 1969."

Remember, this is an institution that took half a millennium to repeal its excommunication of Galileo for noticing that the Earth is round. The outburst at Brown's novel and the movie is better understood in the context of internal church politics than by taking Vatican statements at face value. It's no secret there is a "priest/nun shortage crisis. Also, fewer Catholics are going to church on Sundays, let alone following other 'Catholic' practices."

The Vatican's continued refusal to incorporate women into the church hierarchy and its insistence on priest celibacy are ancient gantlets best not run. Dan Brown ran both of them. By elevating Mary Magdalene's power and prestige and portraying male church leaders as worshiping the "sacred feminine" (and engaging in sex), albeit in a fictional context, Brown made the Vatican see cardinal red. That's what this fuss is really all about.