The Editors
Fresh Canadian AirThe Canadian Religious Conference, which represents more than 200 orders of men and women, in January presented to the bishops of Canada an exhaustive analysis of the situation of the church in that country. They outlined points of satisfaction and regret, and provided a wish-list of changes for which they hope. The document was meant to be confidential. Its contents, however, leaked out and became widely known early in March.

The covering letter said that the religious felt the need to extend our love and attachment to the church to an uncomfortably prophetic level! The points raised run the gamut of Catholic concerns: the legalistic image of the church, rigidity and intransigent stands, inadequate formation, lack of openness, lack of compassion. The occasion for the message is the upcoming ad limina visits to Rome by the bishops. And, indeed, the relationship between Rome and the Canadian church occupies a good deal of space.

As it happened, the bishops of Quebec were meeting just after the letter became public, so they had the opportunity to respond. We very much share the preoccupations which are mentioned, they said, and went on to list some of their own: education in the faith, efforts toward evangelization, care for the most needy. The president of the assembly of bishops noted that he is himself a religious (Oblate of Mary Immaculate). The bishops called for all members of the church to participate more fully in the dialogue that has been opened.

No wonder meteorologists speak in reverent tones about the relief expected in the blistering U.S. summer from cool Canadian air.

Constitutional FailureThe vote by the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 8 against holding a full inquiry into the president’s domestic surveillance programs amounts to dereliction of constitutional duty. Terrorism is a serious security issue, but the war on terror is so unlike a conventional war that it provides only weak justification for the Senate to acquiesce in curtailing civil liberties without thorough investigation of the president’s domestic spying programs and serious deliberation on what liberties may be compromised in the name of security. Since the antiterrorist struggle is expected to last for many years and determining its conclusion will be difficult, any limitation on civil liberties ought to be carefully deliberated; and if approved, they should be diligently supervised by Congress and the courts. The committee’s decision to set up a subcommittee to receive reports from the White House represents an evasion of the responsibility assigned to it in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the 1970’s. Without clear law designed to protect citizens’ rights as well as their security, the subcommittee will be little more than a shadowy Star Chamber doing the executive’s bidding. Once again Committee Chairman Senator Pat Roberts and his Republican colleagues (Senators Orrin Hatch, Mike DeWine and Christopher Bond) are providing partisan protection for the advance of intrusive and arbitrary government. This is the way tyranny advances, step by step under the cover of darkness in a conspiracy of silence. Da Vinci SmackdownDan Brown is being sued. Two of the authors of the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail contend that the author of The Da Vinci Code lifted more than a few ideas from their own workspecifically, the notions that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married, that Jesus’ wife brought along their child on her move to France (so much nicer in the summer than Judea) and that their lineage continued through France’s Merovingian rulers. Holy Blood, Holy Grail, written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (whose own names could be lifted from a John Le Carré novel) was a bestseller when it appeared in 1982, though its wild claims have been dismissed by reputable historians. The book is an unsavory stew of conspiraciesheavily spiced with appearances by the Priory of Sion (itself a chimerical organization), the Knights Templar, the Nazis and the prime cover-upper, the Vatican. Writing in The New York Times in 2004, one reviewer, Laura Miller, called the book one of the great works of pop pseudohistory. As a result, the trial unfolding in a London courtroom can be boiled down to: You stole your bad book from our bad book.

With the movie based on The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks as the Scourge of the Vatican, scheduled for theaters in May, the stakes for Dan Brown are high. Were the court to rule against him, the movie’s release date could be in peril. And, sadly, moviegoers would have to postpone the pleasure of watching a misleading movie based on a misleading book based on another misleading book.

Comments

Patrick Nugent | 3/26/2006 - 10:16pm
I would have hoped that America editors had something better to do with their time and column inches than further the prattle about The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown continues to make a bazillion dollars because of the continuing “controversy”. The law suit your “Current Comment” mentions may be one of the best things that ever happened to Dan Brown – it keeps the book in the headlines and in your columns. Apparently more people succumb each week to curiosity and buy the hardcover edition. According to the Washington Post, it is #3 this week, its 103rd week on the best seller list.

Anyone who finds the book misleading must have been looking to The Da Vinci Code for affirmation of Christian history and Catholic Church institutions. But for those who noticed the words “a novel” on the cover, it’s a pretty good yarn, right up there with tales by LeCarre and Grisham.

Phyllis Ann Karr | 2/23/2007 - 9:40am
It seems to me that more is riding on the plagiarism lawsuit about The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail than you suggest (Current Comment, 3/27).

Back in 1982, Holy Blood, Holy Grail was presented to the public as a work of nonfiction. This pose opened it to treatment as nonfiction, and nonfiction has always been regarded as a legitimate research tool for authors of fiction. Dan Brown’s novel makes no secret of its debt to such self-styled scholars as Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln. Thus, in suing him for plagiarism, they must either admit their own earlier work is pure fiction and that they or their publishers fibbed in labeling, or else pretend that Brown’s novel is nonfiction and ought to have been copiously footnoted.

As I see it, a court decision for Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln would threaten every fiction writer who has ever based any novel, play or short story on research done in any nonfiction work still in copyright. This is not merely a question of two “misleading” books and one “misleading” movie. It is a question of whether novelists and dramatists can remain free to base their stories on all available nonfiction, or whether we are henceforth condemned to have nothing but fiction based on the authors’ pure imagination, abetted only by nonfiction resource materials at least half a century out of date. As an occasionally published writer of quasi-historical fiction myself, I am entirely on Dan Brown’s side! I don’t want to have to fear plagiarism lawsuits from some half-forgotten nonfiction research tool should one of my novels unexpectedly become a bestseller.

This alleged-plagiarism farce strikes me as one more symptom of greedy individualism running rampant over community spirit. It is hardly a question of literary quality. Shakespeare could hardly have crafted his plays under the grasping, overpossessive spirit that permeates the modern copyright situation.

Patrick Nugent | 3/26/2006 - 10:16pm
I would have hoped that America editors had something better to do with their time and column inches than further the prattle about The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown continues to make a bazillion dollars because of the continuing “controversy”. The law suit your “Current Comment” mentions may be one of the best things that ever happened to Dan Brown – it keeps the book in the headlines and in your columns. Apparently more people succumb each week to curiosity and buy the hardcover edition. According to the Washington Post, it is #3 this week, its 103rd week on the best seller list.

Anyone who finds the book misleading must have been looking to The Da Vinci Code for affirmation of Christian history and Catholic Church institutions. But for those who noticed the words “a novel” on the cover, it’s a pretty good yarn, right up there with tales by LeCarre and Grisham.

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