Guests: George W. Bush, Chuck Hagel, Dick Sauber, Peter Guber, Peter Bart, Francis Maniscalco, Jon Meacham, Pia de Solenni, Thomas Bohlin
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, what‘s the biggest danger to “The Da Vinci Code”, the Catholic Church or the critics? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to a HARDBALL special report, the “Church Versus ‘The Da Vinci Code,‘” live tonight from the U.S. headquarters of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei, a group villainized in “The Da Vinci Code” book and movie. This is the first time that Opus Dei has let an entire TV show originate from here.
Reviews for the controversial “The Da Vinci Code” movie have been
depressing and Opus Dei couldn‘t be happier. Tonight, the real story from
the inside of Opus Dei. And on the eve of the U.S. premiere of “The Da
Vinci Code” movie, what the Catholic Church is urging all Catholics to do -
save your $10.
Much more on this later, but first, the big political news out of Washington. General Michael Hayden, President Bush‘s nominee for director of the CIA, was in the hot seat today in Senate hearings defending the NSA domestic spying program.
And President Bush was out in Arizona today pushing his plan on illegal immigration. He spoke with NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, on your immigration plan, Republican critics have been outspoken. The California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called the deployment of National Guard troops a mere Band-Aid, and House Republicans who are key to this debate have also been outspoken.
This is what Charlie Norwood said of Georgia. Quote, “The people in my district are ready to throw anybody and everybody out of office that won‘t bring this nightmare to a stop. The plan the president proposed,” he said, “is not what the American people want.” Why are conservative Republican critics wrong?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I get criticized from the right and the left, David. There are some who say you should be for amnesty, which I think is a mistake. There are some who, I guess, they‘re for deportation, which I don‘t think will work.
What I‘m for is a comprehensive border plan that recognizes that we can—we need to increase the Border Patrol, and until we get 6,000 additional agents stood up, there needs to be National Guard here to help the people who are doing the job down here.
And we need fencing along parts of the border, we need infrared, we need motion detectors, UAVs, all aimed to helping to secure this border. But you cannot secure the border, in my judgment, without a temporary worker plan, because we‘ve got people coming here to work, who are doing jobs Americans aren‘t doing. They‘re sneaking across the border.
It seems like if we‘re trying to enforce the border, it makes sense to let them come here on a temporary basis to do jobs Americans aren‘t doing, provided they can pass a criminal background check.
GREGORY: So what do you do to get House Republicans on board?
BUSH: Well, the first thing is to get a bill out the Senate. You‘re
talking about the House Republicans. We got a—they‘ve got a bill out
GREGORY: But that‘s where the conference will be. That‘s where it will be hardest.
BUSH: Let‘s get it out of the Senate first. First thing‘s first. A lot of people didn‘t think there would be a bill coming out of the Senate. And now it looks like they‘re going to get a comprehensive bill out of the Senate and we‘ll get it in conference and continue to work the issue.
GREGORY: Let me ask you about your leadership. In the most recent survey, your disapproval rating is now one point lower than Richard Nixon‘s before he resigned the presidency. You‘re laughing, but ...
BUSH: I‘m not laughing, I just ...
GREGORY: ... why do you think that is?
BUSH: Because we‘re at war, and war unsettles people. We got—listen, we‘ve got a great economy. We‘ve added 5.2 million jobs in the last two-and-a-half years. But there‘s a—but people are unsettled. They don‘t look at the economy and say life is good. They know we‘re at war and I‘m not surprised that people are unsettled because of war.
The enemy has got a powerful tool, and that is to get on your TV screen by killing innocent people, and my job is to continue to remind the people it‘s worth it. We‘re not going to retreat hastily. You know, we‘re not going to pull out of there before the job is done and we‘ve got a plan for victory.
GREGORY: But they‘re just not unsettled, sir. They disapprove of the job you‘re doing.
BUSH: That‘s unsettled.
GREGORY: That‘s how you see it.
BUSH: Yes, I do. I see it as the war is difficult and I understand that. I understand why people wonder whether we could win the war or not, but there‘s a big difference between some of us who believe that we‘re doing the right thing in moving forward and a group of people who want to pull out before the job is done.
GREGORY: Do you think it‘s possible that like Nixon and Watergate, that the American people have rendered a final judgment of disapproval on you and your war in Iraq?
BUSH: Of course not. I have got two-and-a-half years left to be president of the United States, and I intend to get he a lot done, including immigration reform. Yesterday I signed the extension of tax relief. We‘re making good progress on cutting this deficit in half.
I have got a lot to do, and I‘m going to continue to work with the Congress to get things done on behalf of the American people. We‘ve got a positive agenda that is making a difference in people‘s lives.
I‘m also not going to retreat in the face of adverse polls. I‘m going to do what I think is right and complete the mission in Iraq, and I believe a free Iraq is going to make the world a better place.
GREGORY: Let me ask you a little something about your style. You said, and have said in this immigration debate that you want to find rational middle ground on this issue. What other areas can the American people expect you to urge a more centrist approach to policy?
BUSH: Well, you know, I think cutting people‘s taxes is rational, particularly since it‘s work. It‘s caused the economy to grow.
GREGORY: Is that middle ground?
BUSH: I think it is but, you know, you‘re the person—you‘re the people that put labels on people. I don‘t. And I think—I said rational, and I think rational—cutting taxes is rational. I think keeping taxes low is rational because it‘s working.
I think the Medicare bill was rational middle ground. I mean, we‘ve said to seniors the system wasn‘t working, we‘re going to reform it. You‘ve now got a prescription drug benefit that helps low-income seniors in particular. No longer do seniors have to choose between food and medicine. To me, that‘s—another way to look at it is just common sense policies.
GREGORY: You mentioned two-and-a-half years. What‘s the momentum changer in your mind for your presidency, to turn it around?
BUSH: You know, I guess Iraq. I mean, that‘s what colors everybody‘s vision, it seems like. People are worried about Iraq and when people see progress in Iraq, they‘ll realize that we can win. Most Americans want us to win. They want us to do well if Iraq. They don‘t want to retreat. And a unity government will help in Iraq, and the fact that more Iraqis are in the fight will help.
GREGORY: Will the finished product be as you envisioned it there?
BUSH: In Iraq? Yes, it will, a nation that can sustain itself, govern itself, defend itself, and a strong ally in the war on terror. And we will have denied safe haven to al Qaeda.
GREGORY: Thank you, Mr. President.
BUSH: David, thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Gregory. And you can watch more on that interview on “NBC Nightly News” tonight.
Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel serves on both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Hagel, you watched the testimony by General Hayden today as part of his nomination—confirmation hearings for head of the CIA. Is the NSA now spying on Americans?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA: Well, the testimony that was given—in fact, it‘s still going on—by General Hayden I thought was extremely valuable for all of Americans to see, because they were able to hear his answers to the questions that relate directly to their constitutional liberties and our national security.
One of the questions was, just as you asked me, is the NSA spying on Americans? The NSA, as he explained it, is undertaking very important security roles in this country and, obviously, we had to be careful with how far he could go and how much he could say in an open hearing.
MATTHEWS: Well, the bottom line is most Americans are either concerned that we‘re not doing enough to spy on the enemy or doing too much to spy on ourselves. What is it based upon what you know now, Senator?
HAGEL: I think the NSA is involved in a very delicate balance, an important balance and an effective balance, of protecting our national security and protecting our constitutional liberties.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe it‘s important, in fact, constitutional that Americans be protected from having an American talking to another American on the telephone from being spied on by the NSA?
HAGEL: Well, we have a law covering that, as you know, Chris. It‘s the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. That law is outdated, and I‘m one of the senators who have proposed new legislation to update that. Technology has overtaken all of our laws and we have new threats in the 21st century.
The question that you‘ve just asked—it was addressed today, needs to be addressed, because fundamentally, the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans must be protected.
At the same time, we also must protect the security interests of this country. We need a new framework of laws so that our NSA, all our security and intelligence agencies, can work within that, and still be compliant with our laws.
MATTHEWS: Who makes the final decision under our system, or should make the final decision, on where to set the balance between privacy rights, Fourth Amendment rights and the need for national security? Who makes that call? The president, the courts, the NSA, the CIA? Who decides at what point do you say to the federal government, sorry, we have to protect this country, but we‘re not going that far?
HAGEL: All three co-equal branches of government, Chris. That‘s why we have judicial review. That‘s why we have congressional oversight and that‘s why we have a president who manages our executive.
And when those get out of balance, like I think we are in now—in that turmoil that we‘re in now, then we have trouble, and so all three need to be part of making that decision. That‘s why we had the 1978 law. That‘s why we need a new law.
MATTHEWS: You said we‘re in turmoil right now. Which way are we leaning? Are we leaning too far towards security or too far about sensitivity about our privacy?
HAGEL: Well, I think we‘re probably tilted too much in the direction of security, and it‘s a direct result of September 11th, 2001. And that‘s a natural reaction. Of course we‘re going to secure our country. Security of our nation, the protection of our citizens, is the highest order, there‘s no question about that.
We will—we will come back into balance. It is always that balance. We are living through a time of transformational change like the world has never seen, Chris. All of our laws need to be moved forward, all our regulations, because technology is overtaking everything.
So Americans should not be concerned that somehow we‘re moving into a police state and their rights are being terminated. That‘s not happening, but we are in a sense of this turmoil and we are trying to get a new center of gravity and we will.
MATTHEWS: Let me show you a short bite from Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, a big war critic, on what he said on HARDBALL last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: A lot of the senators have called me and I told them there‘s only two positions, that President Bush‘s position which is stay the course, which is not a position at all and is open ended and my position, which is redeploy as quickly as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Is that right, Senator? We‘ve come down to two choices, stay the course or set a timetable for getting out of Iraq?
HAGEL: Well, I think those are the two boundaries and I think the answer is somewhere in between. There‘s no question that Murtha‘s point and he has driven that point and I‘m glad he has and I‘ve talked to him many times about it, is that—and I said by the way, maybe I was the first to say it, Chris, I said stay the course is not a policy.
I said that more than a year ago. I said it publicly. That is not a policy. Just to hang on and hang on, that goes right back to Vietnam. We need to find a way out of this. There‘s no question about it. We are captive now to some extent.
I warned about it, others did when we first got in before we went in. That was the whole quagmire. It‘s easy to get into war, not easy to get out. Now we‘re trapped. Now it‘s the Iraqi people, Iraqi government, Iraqi security forces are going to have to take control, take hold, and allow us to gradually move out of Iraq and that‘s the way out.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much for joining us tonight, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Coming up, General Michael Hayden, President Bush‘s nominee to run the CIA had his confirmation grilling today. We‘ll talk about that, his time in the hot seat today. And later, are there any facts in “The Da Vinci Code.” Why is the Catholic Church telling members not to watch it? We‘re here inside the headquarters of Opus Dei, the Catholic group villainized in the movie. Plus, “Variety‘s” Peter Bart and producer Peter Guber will talk to us live from the Cannes Film Festival in France where “The Dan Vinci Code” premiered last night. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Let‘s say a year before 9/11, what effect would it have been on 9/11, do you believe?
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I have said publicly and I can demonstrate in closed session how the physics and the math would work, senator, that had this been in place prior to the attacks, the two hijackers who were in San Diego, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf Alhazmi almost certainly would have been identified as who they were, what they were, and most importantly, where they were.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back HARDBALL. That was General Michael Hayden, the nominee for CIA director explaining how the National Security Agency‘s warrantless eavesdropping program might have snagged two of the 9/11 hijackers.
For more on how General Hayden did in his hearing today, we turn to former federal prosecutor and NSA expert Dick Sauber, who also represents, as many of you know by now, “Time” magazine reporter Matt Cooper in the CIA leak case.
Dick, thanks for joining us. First of all, how strong a case does the NSA have that they could have caught some of the hijackers before 9/11, if they had this access, which they didn‘t have then apparently to the NSA records on our phone calls, on electronic international transfers?
DICK SAUBER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I heard that today and I‘m just not sure what the general meant. I hope it means that we do have the capability to track these people down, but I do think he said two incredibly important things today from what I saw.
One, he was uncomfortable with the way people in the Pentagon in the past had pressured the intelligence agencies for a predetermined outcome. I thought that was very good news. But the other thing he said I think is relevant to your question and the whole eavesdropping issue is he said that within the NSA, they were using a probable cause standard and that it was well documented and that no one within the NSA had pointed out an instance of surveillance that was not based on probable cause.
Well, if they‘re taking the time and the effort to do that, that is precisely what is required under FISA, so if they‘re doing it internally, I don‘t really understand the argument for why it can‘t be done under the dictates of the law that exists now. And what I really don‘t understand is the assumption that a single government agency can properly make the decision as to what constitutes the right kind of probable cause. That‘s the whole point of our system of getting an independent magistrate to make that judgment.
MATTHEWS: Well let me go to your first point about the CIA. Certainly those of us who have been watching this war transform the way we do things in this country, the Iraq war, have noticed that the ideologues, the hawks if you will within this administration had been pressuring the intelligence community from day one to find a justification for the war. Is that what the general is saying here, the same thing we‘ve been hearing now since practically 2003 when the war started?
SAUBER: He seems to be the only person within the administration that I‘m aware of who actually came right out and said he was uncomfortable with the pressure from certain places in the Pentagon to come up with a predetermined answer.
And I think it was very comforting to know he that this person who‘s probably going to be the head of the CIA felt that that was an improper use of government office.
MATTHEWS: Right. Because you remember at the time that Cheney and the others pressured the CIA not only to do what they wanted them to say, but to say that there wasn‘t any pressure on them. Remember that?
MATTHEWS: There is a lot of backing and filling along here as they were pushing the CIA to say there‘s a justification for war. They were getting them to deny they were ever pressured. But you‘re right, it‘s the first guy to break.
SAUBER: It‘s the first time anybody has come right out and been straight with us about precisely what we all know was going on.
MATTHEWS: I wish these guys had talked—here‘s an editorial for action. Why didn‘t Colin Powell talk? Why didn‘t George Tenet talk? Why didn‘t this guy talk, Michael Hayden? How come all these guys let the bullies push them into a war, push them into a case for war, the ideologues I‘m talking about. Push the regular people into this case, and only now, three years after the war got started and the war‘s very unpopular, they‘re coming out and saying, oh yeah, by the way, we were all pressured, there really wasn‘t a WMD case, this was all ideology and politics. The Bush administration wanted a war, the neoconservatives wanted a war and they got it, because we buckled.
SAUBER: It‘s unfortunate. I guess the resignation on principle is something that‘s gone from American politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, I wish we had the days of Cy Vance, when somebody disagreed, they walked honorably, instead of stayed dishonorably.
Thank you very much—Dick Sauber. It‘s great to have you.
Up next, our very special report from Opus Dei headquarters in New York City. Is there any fact at all in “The Da Vinci Code?” Is it all fiction? We‘ll find out during our exclusive trip behind the closed doors of Opus Dei, the group villainized in the movie. Plus we‘ll learn what really goes on here at Opus Dei headquarters. You‘re watching HARDBALL, a special report on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Coming to you tonight from inside the U.S. headquarters of Opus Dei, up here in New York. “The Da Vinci Code” movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this week—last night, exactly—to mostly lackluster reviews. Is it the blockbuster Hollywood was hoping for or will it flop? And how will all the controversy from religious groups, including the Catholic Church, affect this big-budget summer feature?
For answers, we go live right now to the Cannes Film Festival, where movie producer, Peter Guber, and editor-in-chief of “Variety” magazine, Peter Bart, are standing by together. They co-host the AMC show “Sunday Morning Shootout.”
Good evening, gentlemen. First of all, Peter Guber, how would you assess the reviews coming out today worldwide on “The Da Vinci Code”?
PETER GUBER, PRESIDENT, MANDALAY PICTURES: Well, Chris, I would say that it was an anxiety-provoking time for everybody consuming this film, and everybody making the film, because the reviews on the whole were not positive. They weren‘t ones that propelled audiences into the theater.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Peter Bart. Sir, would you say this is trouble for this very expensive film? It cost a quarter million—or a quarter billion—to get it out to us. Every American bus stop has a poster for this, a run sheet. Are they going to waste some money on this?
PETER BART, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, VARIETY: Well, no, because this picture is probably critic-proof. I mean, you‘re dealing with a book that has such international celebrity that there‘s a tremendous “want to see.” People all over the world, 40 million readers, want to see this movie. So it‘s critic-proof—at least for the first couple of weeks.
MATTHEWS: Are we still talking about $100 million opening this weekend, Peter Guber?
GUBER: Well, I think those are stratospheric numbers. I think that what you‘re going to see is a tsunami, this pent-up awareness and “want to see” generated by the book and the publicity, and even the adverse critical reaction will propel people into the theaters. It‘s undoubted. The question is, what will be the tale of this film, how long will it go? And I think once you get past the first few days, the critic reviews really back into the background and you really have viral marketing by those who have seen the film. And that‘s what‘s going to propel the film into the stratosphere.
MATTHEWS: What did you think of it, Peter Guber?
GUBER: I‘m not a critic, but I think one of the things about the film is, the film makes it here, not here. And most movies are emotional transportation. They have to hit you here for it to be viral marketed.
And I think the problem is, you had to listen to every single word or know the book to kind of navigate through the code in this film.
MATTHEWS: I got you, Peter.
Peter Bart, same question to you: how did you like the movie? Did it lack emotional, cathartic impact on you as a viewer?
BART: Well, I think the critics hit on one point that‘s important, and that is there‘s very little chemistry between Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou. You don‘t get a real meshing between those two principal characters, and that hurts it.
But you know, Chris, to analyze this picture, you have to go back to “The Godfather,” because then you remember the early 1970‘s, you had a book come out that was incredibly popular—incredible popular—and then the movie comes out. And bang, the reviews in this case were extraordinarily positive. And everything took off. But I think this is very similar to that situation. There‘s not been a book since then that‘s established itself as such an important book around the world.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me give you a terrible example, because it strikes terror in the hearts of investors: that‘s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” a fabulous book that everybody I know read, and maybe one of the worst movies ever made. And also Tom Hanks starred in that one too.
BART: Ask Guber, he bought the book.
GUBER: I bought the book, and—
MATTHEWS: Peter Guber, were you shocked by that failure?
GUBER: By “Bonfire”—well, I had left the company about a year before the movie was made. But I think what you really have here is a different kind of story. You have a global film, not just a local New York kind of elite subject, the Bonfires, but a global film, one that has created a bonfire, if you will, of controversy that‘s religious that we‘ve seen be propelling movies like “Passion of the Christ” and other films before.
The question is, will this ignite that into a positive firestorm, or will it retard the growth of the film? That will be interesting to see.
MATTHEWS: What‘s your bet?
GUBER: My bet is that this is going to overcome everything. I think there will be so much curiosity and so much firepower around the water cooler—What do you think, what do you feel—and everybody that says don‘t go see it, it‘s a religious group or a fanatical group or any side of the controversy, will only fuel it. You to realize that peer group pressure will drive everyone to have an opinion, and in order to have an opinion, you‘ve got to see the film—means big bucks.
MATTHEWS: This will be the first time a movie got whacked by the critics and people still think it will make it. We‘ll be right back with more with Peter Guber and Peter Bart on the world‘s reaction over there in Cannes—“The Da Vinci Code.”
And later, what will hurt the movie more, the church objections or the lousy reviews? You‘re watching HARDBALL from inside the headquarters of Opus Dei up here in New York City, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re here tonight at Murray Hill Place in New York City, the U.S. headquarters of Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic group villainized in “The Da Vinci Code.” For more on “The Da Vinci Code” premiere and the reaction, let‘s go back to France to Cannes, France in the south of France, where the film‘s elite are gathered for the famous Cannes Film Festival with movie producer Peter Guber and “Variety” editor-in-chief Peter Bart, co-host of AMC‘s “Sunday Morning Shootout.” Peter Guber first, then Peter Bart. You spoke today with the star of this movie, Tom Hanks, also with Ron Howard. Rather you talked to Brian Grazer, the producer and director of the film. How did they react to the reviews?
GUBER: I think that they reacted cautiously because they recognize that reviews are only the beginning of the process and that they wanted to present the audience with the film and let the audience carry it from there.
But I think they were reckoning that they would get better modest reviews if not great reviews and I don‘t think they tested the film enough in the marketplace. They kept it secret. They probably used General Hayden to keep a wrap on the thing. But they really kept secrecy on this film. And so the question was, were they hiding the bacon? We couldn‘t really get that answer.
MATTHEWS: Peter Bart, every movie that I like, I root for somebody in. I‘ve got a visceral connection to the hero, or the heroine. I care when they win, it hurts when they lose. Is there that kind of grabber in this film?
BART: Tom Hanks plays a professor, complete with his somewhat long locks and somehow in the film he seems a bit disengaged.
It seems almost like he‘s taking a pedantic interest in the proceeding and that‘s exacerbated by the fact that the proceedings are very complicated and the film has to stop every 10 minutes or so for a long scene that Guber and I used to call “the explainer.”
You know, that‘s when a movie stops and you sort of update the audience, this is what happened, this is what to expect. And you know, explainers are necessary in a complicated movie like this, but they do intrude upon the forward momentum.
MATTHEWS: Sounds like a real barn burner to me. Anyway, thank you Peter and Peter. Their “Shootout” show on “The Da Vinci Code” airs this Sunday on AMC, the American Movie Classics.
Now here live at Opus Dei U.S. headquarters is Monsignor Francis Maniscalco. He‘s with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and here to tell us right now about the official church position. You have a code rating, it‘s called “o for offensive.” You‘re giving that to “The Da Vinci Code.”
MONSIGNOR FRANCIS MANISCALCO, CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: Yes we are.
MANISCALCO: Because of the tremendous misinformation about Christianity and Jesus Christ that‘s in the movie which repeats what‘s in the book.
MATTHEWS: The big charge against the Christian faith is that the Christian faith is bogus, isn‘t that in the movie?
MANISCALCO: Well, that‘s—I haven‘t seen the movie, but my review...
MATTHEWS: ... It‘s in the book.
MANISCALCO: It‘s in the book and my reviews tell me the book is—the movie is very faithful to the book.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at one of the actors, one of the feature players, Ian McKellen. He‘s a great actor, but he has some views which are going to cause some noise right now. Here he is on “The Today Show” talking about the film.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, TALK SHOW HOST: People wanted us to say fiction,, fiction. How would you have all felt if there was a disclaimer at the beginning the movie? Would it have been OK with you?
SIR IAN MCKELLEN, ACTOR: Well I have often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer at the front, this is fiction. Walking on water, it takes an act of faith and I have faith in this movie, not that it‘s true, not that it‘s true, not that it‘s factual, but that it‘s a jolly good story and I think audiences are clever enough and bright enough to separate out fact and fiction, and discuss the thing when they‘ve seen it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I don‘t know what he said there, but he said one thing, he made fun of the Bible by saying it is fiction basically, it had to have a disclaimer. What do you make of that kind of remark?
MANISCALCO: Well I think it just continues the agenda of the book to deny that the indisputable source for information about Jesus Christ is the New Testament. And then to call that fiction is to question the validity of the New Testament, which is what the book does and apparently the film does as well.
MATTHEWS: What do you think is the movie? Is it to tell a truth that they share among themselves, the producers and the directors and the writer? Is it to make money? Is it to have some fun with a yarn with a serious plot in it?
MANISCALCO: It‘s hard to tell because I really don‘t know the people themselves. But certainly there has been in the atmosphere some of these questions about Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Certain scholars want to kind of have a revisionist view of the origins of Christianity and I think the author of the book, Dan Brown, picked up on some of those things and put them into popular version.
MATTHEWS: I grew up a Catholic, I‘m a Catholic. Monsignor, I always
liked Mary Magdalene, I thought she was an interesting character. She had
had a bad background, a little naughtiness in her background, maybe worse
than that. But Jesus loved her and made her a close friend. Tell us about
because she‘s sort of portrayed as a person who was villainized by the church and Dan Brown in the movie here says, “She‘s great, let‘s make her look better than she was.”
MANISCALCO: Well I think two things. The first is that Mary Magdalene apparently was called a prostitute early on and perhaps she wasn‘t, she was mixed up with some other people in the gospels. But still, everybody is called to repent and whether she was a prostitute or not, she is a person who repented so she has been admired for her repentance and then zealously following Jesus Christ.
MATTHEWS: But didn‘t Jesus like her, because she liked him? In the Bible, he says, “She is loved much.”
MANISCALCO: Well that‘s not really Mary Magdalene.
MATTHEWS: Who‘s that Mary?
MANISCALCO: That‘s another figure that we don‘t exactly know who that person is.
MATTHEWS: Oh, that wasn‘t Mary, too?
MATTHEWS: You‘re sure?
MANISCALCO: People like economize in the gospel and if they‘ve got people they don‘t have a name, they figure they must be somebody else as well.
MATTHEWS: OK. Monsignor, let‘s get to a larger point. Have women been put down in the history of the church? It‘s a male-dominated church. Obviously, fathers, priests, monsignors, bishops, they‘re all male. This book argues that women had a larger role in the early church and that was depressed and repressed subsequent to the council of Nice?
MANISCALCO: Well I have to say that that really is I think a bad rap on the church. If you read the prayer that we call the Roman Canon, the central prayer of the mass, for many, many years there was a whole group of names in there. And the last group of names are women martyrs: Agatha, Anastasia, Cecilia.
So right from the beginning of the church in the city of Rome, they venerated women martyrs along with the male martyrs. Women founded religious orders. In the church, it‘s not only holding office, it‘s the holiness, it‘s the discipleship of Christ. And I‘ve always said to people, can you name the popes who lived during the life of St. Theresa of Avalon. Most Catholics know this great woman mystic, and reformer of her religious community,, but most people don‘t know the popes who reigned at her time.
MATTHEWS: OK, so you say this book is just selling feminist politics then?
MANISCALCO: Well I think people do not understand the role in the church of holiness for every disciple of Christ.
MATTHEWS: Is Dan Brown a threat to the Catholic Church?
MANISCALCO: No, but the ...
MATTHEWS: This movie?
MANISCALCO: No, not to the church.
MATTHEWS: Why did you brand it offensive? You don‘t want people to see it and why?
MANISCALCO: Because we‘re concerned, not just concerned for the
masses of people, but for every individual person. If any person were to
go to this movie and get a wrong impression of Jesus Christ, view of him
MATTHEWS: You mean it‘s like people—excuse me, Father. It‘s like people going to an Oliver Stone movie and believing that LBJ killed Kennedy. Some kids do believe that.
MANISCALCO: Well, I think that‘s exactly the comparison. I think young people to whom JFK is no closer in history than Lincoln go to that movie and come out and say, gee, I didn‘t know his successor tried to kill him, and that‘s very offensive, because it kind of eats away at the historical foundation.
MATTHEWS: We have found common ground, let‘s say, because I can‘t stand that kind of history because it‘s completely bogus. Thank you very much, for joining us at the headquarters, Monsignor Maniscalco.
Up next, pop culture and the Catholic Church. Will “Da Vinci Code” test the faithful? The question we‘re asking at the headquarters as we continue from inside the U.S. headquarters of Opus Dei, only on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s rare that Hollywood deals with important issues and it‘s doing it right now. We‘re inside Opus Dei headquarters in New York, a place that very few people have gotten to visit.
We‘ve talking about the nasty reviews from the secular press over in Europe to “The Da Vinci Code” movie that‘s coming out this weekend and we‘ve talked to people who expected accolades that haven‘t gotten even audiences, apparently, so far.
Let‘s talk right now to try to assess this pop culture phenomenon and the fight over it and its impact on Christian faith. We turn to Dr. Pia de Solenni, a Catholic theologian spokesperson for the davincicodeoutreach.com; and “Newsweek‘s”—our old friend Jon Meacham, who‘s also author of “American Gospel.”
Good evening, a good Protestant, a good Catholic. So let‘s get it straight. I had to do my disclaimers. I‘m a Catholic. Look, let me ask you what‘s the—if you were to warn a good Catholic why not to see that movie, what would you say exactly?
PIA DE SOLENNI, ETHICIST & THEOLOGIAN: You know, it gets down to exactly what Tom Hanks says in the movie. “It‘s an insult,” he says, “to believe—to worship Jesus Christ as God,” and that is precisely why no Catholic, no Christian, should contribute their $10.
I mean, this isn‘t about who Mary Magdalene was, even whether or not Jesus was married, but it‘s about the fact who Jesus Christ was. “The Da Vinci Code” wants to say he wasn‘t God and that we shouldn‘t—that anyone who worships him as such is doing the wrong thing. And in Tom Hanks‘ own words, it‘s an insult.
MATTHEWS: So basically, the movie says yes, Jesus could have been like a Nelson Mandela or a Mother Teresa, sort of a good person, a good role model.
DE SOLENNI: Any hip, good guy.
MATTHEWS: But in passing just another person in the billions of people that are going to be born.
DE SOLENNI: Right.
JON MEACHAM, “NEWSWEEK” MANAGING EDITOR: Well, Jesus as Elvis is not a good way to begin any sort of outreach to the religious community. That‘s true. I think the central charge that Brown makes—and he does present this as fact in some ways. You know, he tries to have it both ways in the novel.
MATTHEWS: Just like Oliver Stone does.
MEACHAM: Absolutely. It‘s very Stone-esque in that way and it charges that the divinity of Jesus was not really established until 325 at the Council of Nicea, which is just historically way off.
MATTHEWS: Because the four gospels were written in the Christian era, or right thereafter.
MEACHAM: Right. Even if you take the longest view saying that John was written in 110 -- and you‘ll get a lot of fights about that—even there you‘re 200 years out. And remember, the Christian story is so odd in some ways, that that‘s one of the things that speaks to its historicity. No one was looking for a human atonement ...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to irony, OK? I go to Catholic Church in Washington. I‘ll bet you if I looked around that church on Sunday, I‘d see a lot of “Da Vinci Code” readers who loved the book, and go to church, and communion, and raise their kids Catholic and totally—and pray at night before they go to bed and like that book and may go see the movie and like it. Explain.
DE SOLENNI: I think it reveals a deeper crisis in the church, and that is that I rMD+IN_rMDNM_think a lot of people don‘t understand the teachings of the church. The church ...
MATTHEWS: They don‘t understand that Jesus is God?
DE SOLENNI: I don‘t think so. No, I think that‘s the problem. I mean, you have people reading ...
MATTHEWS: Why would you think that?
DE SOLENNI: Because you have people reading the book thinking it‘s fact. You have people ...
MATTHEWS: No they don‘t.
DE SOLENNI: They do.
MATTHEWS: I‘m talking about the people who enjoy it as a book. They say well, oh, this is an interesting little theory.
DE SOLENNI: But there are people that are saying—I have been confronted with people in bars that have said, you know, but “The Da Vinci Code” says. Now these are the same people that question the ...
MATTHEWS: Well, they were drunk probably.
DE SOLENNI: Not quite.
MATTHEWS: No really, how can you believe the book that Jesus isn‘t God and show up at church? It doesn‘t make any sense.
DE SOLENNI: I mean, we‘ll have to bring in the psychologists on that one, but I mean ...
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I‘m asking about.
Jon, explain here why a person can hold two ideas: one I like the book, and one I believe in Jesus Christ as God. He‘s the God—he‘s the son of God. How come people—they do. We live if a country where people hold two beliefs. I enjoy a good yarn, I believe in my faith.
MEACHAM: It‘s like our lovely divided government. It‘s cognitive dissonance.
MATTHEWS: Like you‘re book.
MEACHAM: Exactly. You sort of—you sort of you live in the twilight—Chesterton ...
MATTHEWS: We believe in God, but don‘t tell us anything in the government about God, because we‘re not going to listen to you.
MEACHAM: Exactly. Chesterton said that “the believer permits the twilight,” that “on this side of paradise,” as St. Paul said, “we struggle and squint to see through a glass darkly.” And I think that many people are able to separate what they buy at Barnes & Noble with what they find out in church, if it prompts questions about how the church came to be.
Remember, Jesus didn‘t leave the empty tomb and say by the way, we‘re going to have an order of bishops and the monsignors here and the Anglicans there—particularly not the Anglicans—and therefore it all just came out.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me get back to you. I don‘t want to short sight what you said here, but you‘re saying the people who go to church and read this book don‘t get it. But I want to ask you something. Could it be that they do believe, but they do have an attitude right now, a little bit anti-church because of years of being talked to morally by priests, men, who aren‘t married, you can‘t use birth control?
And then we find out that some of their own private lives are not above suspicion. I don‘t say there‘s anything general about that. There‘s a little attitude in the church. Well, you remember the church. You know the attitude, which is I‘m glad we caught the big guys in trouble. They‘re no better than we are.
DE SOLENNI: There‘s that, but I think there is, again, a difficulty with the understanding on church teaching. I mean, look at—you brought up the teaching on contraception. I mean, that is a teaching that most Catholics really struggle with, and I think it‘s largely because they don‘t understand it, because it hasn‘t been taught. It hasn‘t been taught from the pulpits. It‘s something that lay groups are beginning to talk about now and so forth, but I think the teaching element really has suffered.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a point of view. I don‘t think it‘s held by a lot of Catholics, but I know that point of view.
I‘m sorry, Jon, we‘ve got to get back to—thank you very much for coming on, making this a good conversation. Thank you. Thank you, Jon Meacham.
We‘ll be right back from inside Opus Dei headquarters. We‘re right here. You know that place in the movie where you see these guys, big giant albinos whipping themselves and wearing chastity belts? We‘re right there. Only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We‘re here at Opus Dei headquarters in New York down here at Murray Hill; it‘s 34th and Lexington—a place that was villainized, as anybody who read “The Da Vinci Code” knows, it‘s a place where strange people hung out.
Well, we have been here for a while now, a couple of days this week. We were here before, and I have to tell you, it‘s a very interesting place, but it seems more like a regular Catholic rectory or convent than any other place I have been.
So let‘s take a look right now at the interview I had here with Father Thomas Bohlin, who is head of Opus Dei in America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IAN MCKELLEN, ACTOR: We are in the middle of a war, one that‘s been going on forever, to protect a secret so powerful that if revealed, it would devastate the very foundations of mankind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: To millions and millions of readers of the “Da Vinci Code,” this building at 34th and Lexington in New York City is a den of horrors. You‘ve got thugs wandering around here dressed like monks, hitmen to be sent off to various parts of the world to kill people to defend the faith. What do you make of that?
FR. TOM BOHLIN, OPUS DEI VICAR: We thought it was just kind of a joke at first, because, you know, who was going to believe this kind of thing? Because we‘re real people, we are a real organization, we have bishops around the world, cardinals in Opus Dei, 15 universities affiliated with Opus Dei around the world. And along comes Dan Brown saying that Opus Dei is an organization with mad monks, albinos, and there is no monks in Opus Dei, albino or otherwise.
Let‘s talk about the pieces of it that they have used to make the book sell, the pieces of reality. In Opus Dei, there is a corporal mortification. There is this form of whipping. The cilice, the wearing of the cilice. You‘re laughing, but—but tell me what the facts are.
BOHLIN: OK. There‘s nothing in Opus Dei like the grotesque portrayals in “The Da Vinci Code,” movie or the book. That‘s all a gross exaggeration.
We promote a spirit of sacrifice, but in little things every day. Smiling when you‘re tired, holding your tongue when you feel like you could say something cutting, persevering at your work when you feel tired.
MATTHEWS: I could use all that. But what about the whipping, the self-whipping? Is that part of Opus Dei, the self-flagellation?
BOHLIN: Within the Catholic Church, there has always been a long tradition of more serious sacrifice—fasting, and also this practice called the cilice, discipline that has been used in religious orders for centuries, in great religious families, by celibate people. And these are part of the Catholic Church. They‘re not part of Opus—Opus Dei adopts them for some of its members who freely undertake some of these things, but it‘s not a majority of members, and it‘s nothing like what‘s in the movies.
MATTHEWS: Why are people willing to believe the worst about their own church and about Opus Dei?
BOHLIN: I‘m not sure that it‘s necessarily Catholics who want to believe the worst. I think people read this on different levels. There are people out there who just see a nice thriller. Other people think they are learning a lot of things that they have never heard before, because the way the facts—the so-called facts are presented in the book is as facts, that everyone knows who has studied something. And there is a third level of people, who want to kick the church while it‘s down, who want to take advantage of anything that attacks the church, traditional morality, the teachings of Jesus Christ.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of Tom Hanks saying it‘s all just a bunch of hooey, some of the movie and the book, and yet the book denies the divinity of Christ? And he says, oh, that‘s just a bunch of hooey. That‘s just fun.
BOHLIN: Somebody once said that—somebody wrote to me saying that it‘s very easy to attack your parents and the Catholic Church, because they will never cast you off and they will never retaliate. And the fact is that they are getting away with attacking the Catholic Church in a way that‘s just outrageous, and you know, we think that‘s very sad.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your strategy. It‘s wonderful of you to let us in here. I know that from our past experience dealing with Opus Dei, this hasn‘t always been your practice, to let people into this headquarters here at 34th and Lexington in New York. Why did you change your position?
BOHLIN: We‘re here in order to be known. And we work in a very private way, one, to—one, in helping people live their faith and passing on from one person to another. But this movie gives us a great opportunity to get our message out, and we want to seize it. You know, if they are giving us lemons, we want to make lemonade out of it.
MATTHEWS: OK, tell me about the lemonade, Father, because I am fascinated. How does a movie which excoriates, denies, condemns your religion, my religion, condemns your group, Opus Dei, which has been around for all these years, how does that help you?
BOHLIN: We think that it gives us a platform. We‘re using it as a platform to talk about the church, to talk about Jesus Christ, to talk about Opus Dei and our message. It‘s given us a platform that we haven‘t had before.
It‘s not that we haven‘t tried to get our word out. We have been trying to sell what we have in this country for 50 years, but it‘s not easy.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Father, you know, maybe this sounds like Gandhi, one of the great men ever, I guess. He said that first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, and then you win. Is that what‘s going to happen here?
BOHLIN: We think it‘s a wonderful opportunity, because we really have a beautiful message, and our message is in the heart of the Catholic Church. It‘s talking about loving Jesus Christ. It‘s talking about holiness in the world. We think it‘s a very attractive thing.
I have been in Opus Dei for 35 years and I‘m still enthralled with this message. That‘s why I‘m still here.
We want this message to reach everywhere, and we want everyone to know everything there is to know about Opus Dei. So this gives us an opportunity to get away from these old cliches that have been, you know, thrown around for so many years, to make people come in and see exactly who we are and what we‘re doing. And we want to be known with complete transparency.
MATTHEWS: Thank you and good night from Opus Dei headquarters.
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