c. 2006 Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY _ A Vatican official, preaching in front of Pope Benedict XVI at a Good Friday service, denounced “The Da Vinci Code” novel and a highly publicized “Gospel of Judas” as examples of profit-driven propaganda aimed at exploiting Christianity.
The comments were a rare instance of the Vatican directly responding to the challenges posed by works that claim to represent alternative versions of the Bible’s representation of the life of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, the official “Preacher of the Papal Household,” criticized the texts during a Friday (April 14) Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, commemorating the death of Christ on the cross.
“These are things that do not merit attention in this time and place, but we cannot allow the silence of the faithful to be misunderstood as embarrassment and let the good faith of millions of people get grossly manipulated by the media,” Cantalamessa said.
The criticism came one day after Benedict called Judas a “double-crossing liar,” reaffirming the traditional portrayal of Judas as a traitor who identified Jesus to Jewish authorities in exchange for blood money, sparking events that led to the crucifixion.
“He was greedy. Money was more important to him than communion with Jesus, more important than God and His love,” Benedict said.
Echoing those comments, Cantalamessa described the manuscript as “psuedo-historic” fantasy that profited off Christianity, just as Judas allegedly sold out Jesus.
“Christ is still getting sold _ no longer to the (high priests) for 30 coins, but to the editors and publishers for millions,” he said.
National Geographic released the self-proclaimed “Gospel of Judas” in a flashy presentation April 6, setting off a media frenzy in the days before Christians across the world observe Easter _ the day commemorating Jesus’ Resurrection. The manuscript says Judas had been selected to betray his master as part of a divine plan that would set him apart from the other apostles.
“You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me,” reads the English version of the text.
Cantalamessa also directed his attack at the Dan Brown novel “The Da Vinci Code,” which has been adapted to film and will be released in May. According to that fictional work, Jesus fathered children with Mary Magdalene, creating a blood line that has been persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church through the centuries.
“No one will be able to stop this wave of speculation, which will see a sharp increase with the imminent release of a certain film,” Cantalamessa said without naming it.
“The Da Vinci Code” also targets the conservative organization Opus Dei, characterizing the group as a conspiratorial force within Christianity, charged with persecuting the heirs of Jesus.
The Rev. Robert Gahl, a professor of theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome and a priest with Opus Dei, said he welcomed Cantalamessa’s comments, but doubted whether they signaled a “concerted Vatican strategy” to challenge works with heretical premises.
Benedict will celebrate his first Easter as pope Sunday. On Thursday Benedict washed the feet of 12 men _ a practice that recalls Jesus washing the feet of his apostles.
Benedict recalled that episode, quoting from the Gospel of John, which offers the most critical depiction of Judas in the New Testament. The earliest gospel writers, such as Mark, depicted Judas as a minor figure, but in John he takes on truly diabolical dimensions.
When Jesus washes the feet of the apostles in John, he warns that not all of them are “clean” of sin. Echoing that passage on Thursday, Benedict told the crowded basilica that some of Jesus’ apostles were clean, “but not all.”
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