Bestselling Secrets of the Code Author Dan Burstein Comments on the
Case of “The Cardinal vs. The Da Vinci Code”
New York, March 21, 2005—Controversy continues to swirl around The Da Vinci Code, even after two full years on the bestseller list, more than 25 million copies sold worldwide, and the creation of a multibillion dollar industry that includes everything from Da Vinci Code tours of Paris to the upcoming Da Vinci Code movie starring Tom Hanks. In the latest episode, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a powerful figure in the Vatican on matters of Church doctrine, denounced the novel last week, calling on Catholics not to buy or read the book, which he termed, “rotten food” and a “sack of lies.” According to news accounts, he specifically appealed to Catholic bookstores—including, presumably, the bookshop in the hospital where Pope John Paul II has recently been treated, as well as others bookshops right inside Vatican City and around the world—to stop selling The Da Vinci Code.
Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer are editors of two bestselling books devoted to explaining fact, fiction, speculation, and controversy in the works of novelist Dan Brown. Burstein and de Keijzer’s books, Secrets of the Code (about The Da Vinci Code) and Secrets of Angels & Demons(about Dan Brown’s “prequel” to Da Vinci Code), each bring together a wide range of experts to comment on the Dan Brown novels. Both books are published by Squibnocket Partners LLC in association with CDS Books.
In a statement issued today, Dan Burstein said, “I respect Cardinal Bertone’s opinion and his right to that opinion. It is unfortunate, however, that he has seen a need to call for a ban on The Da Vinci Code, which is clearly a work of pop culture fiction, not a serious treatise on theology. As with most official critiques of books and movies, Cardinal Bertone’s recent comments will probably have the opposite of their intended effects, making even more people inside and outside the Catholic Church interested in experiencing what he has now suggested should be considered a forbidden fruit.
“It is particularly ironic that Dan Brown’s novels frequently call attention to the suppression of ideas in Church history: The burning and banning of works of “heretics;” the quashing of alternative scriptures that have come to be known as the Gnostic Gospels; the fact that the historical Mary Magdalene was mis-characterized for almost 1400 years by the Church as a prostitute; the epochal Church battle to censor the great scientist Galileo. All of these incidents in history are integral to the plots of the Dan Brown novels. Cardinal Bertone has set out to criticize what he sees as, in his opinion, the dangerous and erroneous content of The Da Vinci Code. However, by calling for a ban of the book, the Cardinal inadvertently lends credence to Dan Brown’s thesis that powerful people in the Church don’t want the faithful to hear certain ideas.
“For the better part of five centuries, from the Inquisition into the twentieth century, the Church maintained a semi-official list of books that were to be banned and shunned. Banned books over the years have reportedly included works by Flaubert, Balzac, Voltaire, Stendahl, Swift, Locke, and Sartre. This practice was apparently discontinued in the 1960s—around the same time the Vatican acknowledged that Mary Magdalene should not be confused with the repentant prostitute mentioned in certain Gospel passages.
“This process of correcting past mistakes in Church history—highlighted by recent Vatican efforts to right the wrongs committed in the case of Galileo or with regard to the Jews in history—is a welcome trend in modern Church thinking. Sadly, Cardinal Bertone seems to be suggesting a return to a time when Church leaders believed they could win intellectual and philosophical debates by simply banning or suppressing certain ideas.
“Over the last two years, many Catholic scholars and theologians have welcomed the discussion of the Da Vinci Code as an opportunity to offer traditional Catholic viewpoints on controversial modern questions. My experience with leading Catholic thinkers, from professors at religious institutions to members of Opus Dei, is that they have generally embraced the debate over this wildly popular novel, and found a positive opportunity to criticize what they find to be in error in The Da Vinci Code, while also obtaining a forum to express their own views of religious history and theology.
“Interestingly, at least one emerging leader of the Church, Monsignor Jose Maria Pinheiro, recently nominated to be the Bishop of Sao Paulo, one of the largest Catholic communities in the world, has taken an explicitly different view about the Da Vinci Code from that of Cardinal Bertone. He has recommended “prudence,” encouraged readers to distinguish “fact from fiction” in the Da Vinci Code, and suggested that it is not necessary to prohibit reading of this novel. That seems to me a much more reasonable position for a Church leader to take.
“It is surprising to many that a Church leader like Cardinal Bertone would suddenly be speaking out against this novel more than two years after its publication, and so long after so many Catholic readers have bought it, read it, and engaged in the discussion of it. This new swirl of controversy may have something to do with next year’s upcoming movie version of The Da Vinci Code, which will inevitably be seen by many more people than even the millions who read the book.
“The recent statements probably also have something to do with Pope John Paul II’s health and the widening discussion of Church directions on policy and theology in the future. There is a strict prohibition on discussion of papal succession within the Vatican, but the reality is that we have entered a period in Vatican politics that is somewhat analogous to the Iowa caucuses in American presidential contests. (In our new book, Secrets of Angels & Demons, we present the views of many different Vatican-watching experts on how the papal succession process actually works, and who the most likely current candidates are).
“In short, I expect we will hear much more about this controversy in the next few weeks, but don’t assume it has all that much to do with the actual novel. Nor is the call for a ban likely to put a damper on The Da Vinci Code’s sales, which will continue setting world records, while feeding the intellectual hunger of many readers to learn more about the ideas discussed in the book..”
Secrets of the Code and Secrets of Angels & Demons are international bestsellers published in the U.S. by CDS Books in association with Squibnocket Partners LLC. Secrets of the Codespent more than twenty weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 2004 and has been translated into more than 20 languages. It has been on bestseller lists in Germany, South Africa, Canada, France, and Poland. Secrets of Angels & Demons made its debut on The New York Times bestseller list recently at #25. Together, these two titles have over a million copies in print worldwide. More than 75 world class experts with widely varying viewpoints—historians, theologians, art experts, scientists, philosophers, linguists, occultists, medievalists, Bible text experts, and other specialists—have contributed articles, interviews, and book chapters to the two “Secrets” books. Several new titles in the “Secrets” series are planned for 2005-6.
SECRETS OF THE CODE: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind the Da Vinci Code CDS Books/Squibnocket Partners LLC $21.95/ISBN 1-59315-022-9 www.secretsofthecode.com
SECRETS OF ANGELS & DEMONS: The Unauthorized Guide to the Bestselling Novel CDS Books/Squibnocket Partners LLC $23.95/ISBN 1-59315-140-3 www.secretsofangelsanddemons.com