VATICAN CITY — The cardinal leading the Vatican’s charge against The Da Vinci Code urged Catholics on Wednesday to shun it like rotten food and branded the bestseller “a sack full of lies” insulting the Christian faith.
In an interview with Reuters inside the Vatican, Cardinal Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone also said Catholic bookstores should take the thriller off their shelves and accused U.S. author Dan Brown of “deplorable” behavior.
The novel is an international murder mystery centered on attempts to uncover a secret about the life of Christ that a clandestine society has tried to protect for centuries.
“Don’t buy this. Don’t read this because this is rotten food,” said Bertone, the highest ranking Catholic churchman to speak out against the blockbuster.
“A lot of novels do good but this book is rotten food ... it does harm, not good,” Bertone said in the 30-minute interview in the offices of the Vatican’s doctrinal department.
'Sack full of lies'
“This book is a sack full of lies against the Church, against the real history of Christianity and against Christ himself,” said Bertone, archbishop of northern Genoa.
The central tenet of the book is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children. Christians are taught that Jesus never married, was crucified and rose from the dead.
“We can’t keep quiet about the truth when faced with all the lies and all the inventions in this book,” Bertone said.
“Some of the gross falsehoods include the treatment of the death and the resurrection of Christ, which is the central mystery of Christianity,” he said.
His comments are significant because he is close to Pope John Paul and until 2003 was deputy head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s most powerful office.
Speaking as one of the Church’s top theologians, he said the book sows doubts and dangerous confusion among the faithful.
A central story line in the book is that the Holy Grail is not the cup which Christ is said to have used at the Last Supper but the bloodline descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
“I would ask the author of this book and similar ones to be more respectful because freedom of expression has limits when it does not respect others,” he said.
'Deplorable' behavior for a writer
“I deplore this behavior ... Great writers did not behave this way,” he said.
On his Web site, Brown rejects anti-Christian charges, saying the novel explores “certain aspects of Christian history that interest me.”
Earlier Wednesday, when asked on Vatican Radio about commentary that the book’s success is “only further proof of the fact that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice,” the cardinal exclaimed. “It’s the truth.”
“There’s a great anti-Catholic prejudice,” Bertone said. “I ask myself if a similar book was written, full of lies about Buddha, Mohammed, or, even, for example, if a novel came out which manipulated all the history of the Holocaust or of the Shoah, what would have happened?”
Bertone told Reuters he was stunned that Catholic bookstores, even those near the Vatican, were selling the book.
“It’s impossible to pull the book off shelves of general bookstores ... but certainly not selling it in Catholic bookstores would be a good first step,” he said.
44 languages, millions of copies
Bertone, who was appointed a cardinal by Pope John Paul in 2003, also said he had received much encouragement from fellow bishops and cardinals for his campaign against the book.
“I am happy that a lot of people have been put on the alert and that I have sounded the alarm of vigilance against the spread of this book,” he said.
“I have arrived too late. Millions of copies have been sold. I can’t hope to slow down sales but at least to prompt a critical response,” he said.
Bertone is so incensed about the novel that he will be the key speaker at a roundtable in Genoa on Wednesday night attempting to dismantle the book, which also claims the Church suppressed the female role in Christianity.
He rejected the assertion, saying: “The role of women in the Church is a primary one, starting from Mary, the mother of God.”
In response, book publisher Doubleday said: “The ideas put forth in ’The Da Vinci Code’ have been circulating for centuries; this novel explores them in an accessible work of fiction. Doubleday certainly respects Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican and their desire to clarify any factual errors they feel may have been made in ’The Da Vinci Code’.”
“The Da Vinci Code” was published two years ago this month and is available in 44 languages. Booksellers expect the novel to remain a best seller well into this year.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.