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China church urges 'Vinci' boycott

Film inspires protests -- and negative reviews

Women walk past a streetside billboard advertising the Hollywood film "The Da Vinci Code" in Beijing.

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(CNN) -- China's official Roman Catholic church has hardened its position on the film "The Da Vinci Code," saying it will tell followers to boycott the movie as immoral and offensive, the government's news agency reported.

The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association believes the movie is "violating religious ethics and morals and insulting the feelings of clergy and followers," church spokesman Liu Bainian said on Thursday.

The government-backed association, which has no ties to the Vatican and is in dispute with the Holy See over its appointment of bishops without papal approval, does not represent all of China's Catholics.

The move adds to criticism by church figures around the world who are offended by the film's depiction of early Christianity.

The Chinese church accused the film of "violating religious ethics and morals and insulting the feelings of clergy and followers," the Xinhua News Agency said, according to The Associated Press.

"The movie has many details that go against the Catholic teachings or are even insulting," Xinhua quoted Liu Bainian, deputy chairman of the Patriotic Association, as saying.

Producers of the new film have previously denied similar complaints, saying the movie version of Dan Brown's best-selling book of the same name can trigger religious discussions.

More trouble is coming from Christian groups in several other countries, who are angry with the film's mix of fact and fiction involving Jesus Christ and Roman Catholicism.

The much-hyped movie, which opens in China on Thursday, has largely entered the world to disapproval.

The opening salvos have come from journalists and movie critics, who watched the film Tuesday night, where it opened the 59th Cannes Film Festival in southern France.

At Cannes, one scene during the film, meant to be serious, elicited prolonged laughter from the audience, and when the credits rolled, there was no applause, only a few catcalls and hisses. Things were no better Stateside, where the film screened for critics in New York. (Watch what went wrong with Da Vinci opening -- 2:33)

The Hollywood Reporter headlined its review, " 'Da Vinci Code' an unwieldy, bloated puzzle."

"No chemistry exists between the hero and heroine, and motivation remains a troubling sore point," wrote reviewer Kirk Honeycutt, panning Tom Hanks' "remote, even wooden performance." Only co-star Ian McKellen managed to avoid criticism.

Time magazine's Richard Corliss also takes digsexternal link at Hanks and director Ron Howard. The latter "seems propelled more out of duty than love for the project," Corliss wrote, while Hanks "seems to sleepwalk through the part."

Corliss, however, admires the film for not shying away from the book's more controversial assertions: "Beneath the chases and crashes, the chalices and cilices [hair shirts], it denies Jesus' divinity. ... And further still: the film challenges the belligerence that too often adheres to religious believers, the wars and atrocities perpetrated in His name."

For those who haven't read the book, "The Da Vinci Code" storyline proposes Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married, had a child, and that a powerful organization linked to the Church conspired to commit murder to keep it secret. (Get a "Da Vinci" primer in this gallery.)

Criticism by Opus Dei

Those assertions are exactly the fuel that is igniting protests by Christian groups.

Opus Dei, an influential Catholic organization that is one of "The Da Vinci Code's" villains, asked for a disclaimer to be added to the film. None was forthcoming.

On the Opus Dei Web site, the organization addresses the claims in the novel and movie, stating " 'The Da Vinci Code's' depiction of Opus Dei is inaccurate, both in the overall impression and in many details, and it would be irresponsible to form any opinion of Opus Dei based on 'The Da Vinci Code.'

"Those who do further research and exercise critical judgment will discover that assertions made in 'The Da Vinci Code' about Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, and Church history lack support among reputable scholars," the Web site statement said.

Although the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, has not voiced an opinion either way on the novel or the film, many Catholic Church officials have.

"I'm mystified by the popularity of it," said Father Joseph DiNoia, a Vatican official during an interview with CNN's Alessio Vinci.

"It has to do with the harm it does to people's faith, not the harm that it does to the [Catholic Church's] public image. It's something a lot more important." (Watch what the film's attraction is -- 3:09)

Monsignor Robert Sarno, also a Vatican official, told Vinci he did not see the storyline as an attack on the Church.

"I just think it has been given a lot more truth value and faith value than it has," he said. "I just read it as an entertaining novel."

Author Brown himself does not purport that the novel or movie are historical or theological fact on "The Da Vinci Code's" Web site.

"This book is not anti-anything," he writes on the site. "It's a novel. I wrote this story in an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history that interest me.

"The vast majority of devout Christians understand this fact and consider 'The Da Vinci Code' an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate."

"If we have offended any Christians I would ask them to forgive us, which seems to be one of the main [tenets] in the New Testament," actor Paul Bettany, who plays Silas in the film, said with a smile during an interview with CNN's Brooke Anderson at Cannes Tuesday.

Bans, protests, boycotts

Protests are also brewing in several countries.

In India, the government Tuesday put a temporary hold on the movie's release because of complaints, The Associated Press reported.

In South Korea, which has 13 million Protestants and 4.6 million Roman Catholics, a court ruled Tuesday that a Christian group's request for an injunction to block screenings lacked merit. The Christian Council of Korea, an umbrella group of 63 South Korean Protestant denominations, said it respected the ruling but would lead a boycott of the movie, which it said defiles the sanctity of Jesus Christ and distorts facts, AP reported.

In mostly Hindu India, which is also home to 18 million Roman Catholics, Joseph Dias, head of the Catholic Secular Forum, began a hunger strike in downtown Mumbai and said other people were joining him.

"We want the movie to be banned," he said.

The film had been set for release in India on Friday and had already been cleared by the national censor board. But Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi said he put a temporary hold on the movie after receiving more than 200 complaints.

In Thailand, Columbia Pictures has appealed a ruling by government censors to cut the final 10 minutes of "The Da Vinci Code," police said, after Thai church leaders complained the film's content was insulting.

Philippine censors approved an adult rating for the movie but stopped short of rating it "X" because "it does not constitute a clear, express or direct attack on the Catholic church or religion" and does not libel or defame any person.

The movie-review panel's chairwoman, Marissa Laguardia, told AP the movie would be a "test of faith" for many people in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.

The National Council of Churches in Singapore, which also had requested a ban, planned lectures to refute aspects of the film and the book on which it is based. The censorship board gave the movie an NC16 rating, barring viewers under 16, arguing that "only a mature audience will be able to discern and differentiate between fact and fiction."

Also, while not planning a protest or boycott, members of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation expressed unhappiness with the film's heavy, a monk-assassin, being an albino, as described in the book.

Michael McGowan, an albino who heads the organization, said "The Da Vinci Code" will be the 68th movie since 1960 to feature an evil albino. He said the group aims to use the movie's popularity to raise awareness about the realities of albinism. People with albinism have little or no pigmentation in their skin, eyes and hair.

After making its print debut in 2003, "The Da Vinci Code" has since sold more than 60.5 million copies and has been translated into 44 languages.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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