Dan Brown and the Catholic Church

Interview With Father John Wauck

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By Jesús Colina



ROME, MAY 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Despite the large number of errors regarding Catholicism that can be found in the movie "Angels and Demons," the interest in the movie demonstrates an even greater interest in the Church, says Opus Dei priest Father John Wauck.

Father Wauck, who is a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and the author of the blog "The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei." His course "A Mirror on the Soul" was aired on EWTN as a 13-part television series.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Wauck discusses the movie "Angels and Demons," the film adaptation of Dan Brown's novel of the same name. The film opened this weekend and is the sequel to the "The Da Vinci Code."

Q: Do you think Dan Brown has a certain fixation with the Catholic Church?

Father Wauck: Sometimes I wonder: Where would Dan Brown be without the Catholic Church? Almost all the interesting things in his novels come from their Catholic setting. Obviously, people aren't being attracted by the cardboard characters and bad dialogue. That's why the main effect of "The Da Vinci Code" wasn't a decrease in religious belief or practice, but rather a sharp increase in tourism to Rome ... and the Louvre.

Dan Brown's trying to sell books by offering a "cocktail" of history, art, religion and mystery, and, in today's world, there seems to be only one place where he's able to find all those things together: in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, he's cashing in on the culture of the Church.

If you're fascinated by history, beauty, and sacred mysteries, it's hard not to be fascinated by the Church. Standing in St. Peter's Square, you've got, within a few hundred yards, a Roman necroplis, an ancient Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome by Caligula, the tomb of St. Peter, the site of the assassination attempt on his successor Pope John Paul II, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta by Michelangelo, the Raphael Rooms, Bernini's colonnade, the world's greatest basilica, and pilgrims from around the globe. And this isn't a museum. It's a living reality that puts us in direct contact with 20 centuries of history -- from ancient times to today. What more could a novelist like Dan Brown ask for? It's certainly hard to find anything like it in suburban America, where most of his readers live.

If Dan Brown seems fascinated by the Catholic Church, he's definitely not alone. The number of pilgrims in Rome these days is at record levels. They come to see Rome and listen to Benedict XVI. And the interest isn't mere curiosity. At Easter this year, in the United States, over 150,000 adults entered the Church.

Q: Do you think the Vatican's decision to not allow filming in the churches of Rome an unfavorable gesture directed toward the producers?

Father Wauck: I've lived in Rome for 14 years now, and I've never seen a Hollywood film crew in a church. As a general rule, no commercial films -- no matter how pious -- are filmed in the churches of Rome. You couldn't film "The Ten Commandments" in a Roman church! Naturally enough, no exception was made for "Angels and Demons." They were treated just like everyone else. End of story. Anything beyond that is hype from the movie's publicity department.

Q: "Angels and Demons" presupposes a natural hostility between the Christian faith and modern science. What do you think about this?

Father Wauck: It's relatively easy for people to see that a lot of the great art of the Western World -- music, painting, sculpture, literature, architecture -- is the product of a Christian culture, often inspired by the faith or even funded by the Church. That seems obvious. But what people don't realize is that something similar is true of the sciences.

Think about it. Universities are an invention of the Church. Copernicus was a Roman Catholic cleric, and he dedicated his book on the heliocentric universe to the Pope. The calendar we use today is the Gregorian Calendar, because it was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII, who was working with the best astronomers and mathematicians of his time. Galileo himself always remained a Catholic, and his two daughters were nuns. One of the greatest Italian astronomers of the 19th century was a Jesuit priest, Angelo Secchi. The father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a Catholic monk. The creator of the "Big Bang" theory was a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaitre.

In short, the idea that there is some natural tension between science and the Church, between reason and faith, is utter nonsense. Nowadays, when people hear the words "science" and "the Church," they immediately think of Galileo's trial in the 1600s. But, in the larger scheme of things, that complex case -- which is frequently distorted by anti-Catholic propagandists -- was a glaring exception. There's a reason why critics of the Church are always bringing it up: It's the only example they've got. So, when we hear the words "science" and "the Church," we should think Copernicus, Secchi, Mendel and Lemaitre. They're representative. Galileo's trial is not.

Q: Is there an aspect of the book that you have found interesting?

Father Wauck: Yes. There's a scene in the novel when the hero, Professor Langdon of Harvard University, suddenly finds himself in front of St. Peter's Basilica, and the thoughts that go through his head at that moment -- in the novel, he's the voice of scientific authority -- sound like an advertisement for Roman Catholicism. It's hard to tell whether we're reading Dan Brown or the Catholic catechism! This is the passage:

"Peter is the rock. Peter's faith in God was so steadfast that Jesus called Peter 'the rock' -- the unwavering disciple on whose shoulders Jesus would build his Church. On this very location, Langdon realized -- Vatican Hill -- Peter had been crucified and buried. The early Christians built a small shrine over his tomb. As Christianity spread, the shrine got bigger, layer upon layer, culminating in this colossal basilica. The entire Catholic faith had been built, quite literally, upon St. Peter. The rock." (Angels and Demons, Chapter 118)

As advertising goes, it's not a gigantic billboard in Times Square. But still, it's not too bad.

Q: Don't you think that by talking about the movie we are giving it free publicity?

Father Wauck: You mean: Who's publicizing whom here? Good question. It probably works both ways, but, considering the time, energy, and millions of dollars spent to make and publicize this movie, I'd say that we're getting the better part of the deal! Maybe God's getting a kick out of using Hollywood to draw some people's attention to the riches of Catholic faith and culture.

Having said that, I should add that I have no intention of wasting my time and money by going to see the movie. The reviews of "The Da Vinci Code" movie -- made by the same crew -- were scathing enough to make anyone want to skip this one.