Angels & Demons & L'Osservatore

L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, has struck another blow for sanity within the Church. Last week, it featured an article that assessed the first 100 days of the Obama presidency with balance and with no sense of alarm. This week, it did the same with the soon to be released movie "Angels and Demons."

The movie is a follow-up, not exactly a sequel, to "The DaVinci Code" and also features Tom Hanks. As L’Osservatore wrote, the plot is simplistic, and the "good guys are always the progressives in favor of sex and science, whether they are heretics or popes, and the bad guys are those who oppose them in the name of faith and tradition, who are always committing crimes." The newspaper said the movie "certainly doesn't deserve the seal of good culture; it's more of a gigantic, clever commercial operation." And so it is.


None of this would be remarkable if the movie had not become the focus of American neo-Jansenists intent on finding perdition everywhere and reducing religion to ethics. The Catholic League for Civil Rights, our contemporary answer to Port-Royal, has been issuing press releases and even a booklet - "Angels and Demons: More Demonic Than Angelic" – to call attention to the "lies" in the movie. Bill Donohue, whom I actually have a fondness for except when he is ranting, has been appearing on television to denounce the movie’s characterization of Catholicism.

Of course, the Catholic Church has a long and curious history with Hollywood. We joined with the industry to oppose government censorship and instead, Hollywood set up a review board that was to enforce the "Cardinal’s Code," a list of restrictions on the moral content of motion pictures. Bad guys had to be punished. Good guys got the pretty girl at the end. Difficult subjects like abortion were best avoided. Sometimes, the negotiations between producers and the board became comic. Howard Hughes once brought a mathematician to show that in his movie "The Outlaw" Jane Russell did not expose more of her bosom than other starlets had in previous productions. In 1937, the board insisted that producers advertising "You Can’t Have Everything" could not use their star’s stage name, Gypsy Rose Lee, only her given name, Louise Hovick.

The key point is that Hollywood is in the business of making fantasy and people do not go to the movies expecting historical accuracy. Yes, I am sure that "Angels and Demons" will portray events that never happened. But, I also don’t know any nuns who look like Ingrid Bergman and I don’t remember any protests about the "Bells of St. Mary’s" coming from the truth-enforcement brigade.

Mr. Donohue is correct to point out that in this litigious society of ours, all sorts of companies are required to alter their products or issue disclaimers because of pressure from consumer advocates. Hollywood blushes about artistic integrity but Hollywood is an industry not an art studio. The problem with Donohue’s protests is that it plays into the hands of the producers: Controversy sells. The investors in the movie would love nothing more than to see the Vatican condemn it.

So, go to the movie or don’t go to the movie. Your soul, and the soul of our culture, is not at stake here.



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9 years ago
"But, I also don’t know any nuns who look like Ingrid Bergman and I don’t remember any protests about the "Bells of St. Mary’s" coming from the truth-enforcement brigade." I know plenty of classically beautiful nuns, nice to see you reinforce the plain Jane nun stereotype.  
9 years ago
Dude, "JFK and the Unspeakable" got a reasonable review in this magazine. Dick Falk and Gaeton Fonzi, who blurbed it, are not completely paranoid lunatics. Let's get back to other myths that we don't like, for instance, plain nuns. Or swarthy, macho priests who take their girlfriends to the beach in plain view of tabloid-mongers. (And please calm down now)
9 years ago
"But, I also don’t know any nuns who look like Ingrid Bergman and I don’t remember any protests about the "Bells of St. Mary’s" coming from the truth-enforcement brigade." I know plenty of classically beautiful nuns, nice to see you reinforce the plain Jane nun stereotype.  
9 years ago
I have to take some disagreement with the author.  First, defending the faith as Mr. Donohue often does is not ranting.  Second, too many people are introduced or instructed in religion, and especially Catholicism, exactly through this medium.  It is through the movies and books that many people first hear about things like gnosticism and even Catholicism.  And that means this is a very bad thing.  I have heard people cite books like Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' as history.  Even Mr. Brown indicates there are certain truths in his book (which is about as far as I was able to get through his book).  The point, such diatrabes against our faith do hurt it.  It does ruin the truth for many people, and it leads them astray.  We should shout out against it.  Also, there is a difference between historical inaccuracies (as in the movie Becket) and harmless stories like the Bells of St Mary's.  You would not watch the former for a history lessen on Henry II, but you might watch the other for perceived morality in the 19th century.
9 years ago
Michael, you would be surprised at the number of people who believe that there is such a thing as the Iluminati (nod, not, wink, wink) who will eat this movie up.  I am amazed by the number of times explosions and disasters have been depicted in St. Peter's and yet there is barely a scratch on the old girl. Much of the controversy about this movie is a hold over from the other movie in the franchise and its claim that the Church would use violence to supress hidden knowledge that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, as such would call into question the divinity of Christ.  The truth of the matter is, it would hardly be scandalous to believe that a first century working Rabbi were married, nor would it call any part of the Gospel into question.  Indeed, it would make Jesus instruction to Mary after the resurrection to not cling to him make sense (since their vow would have been to death do us part).  What would have been supressed violently in another age was any inference that Jesus did not actually die on the cross - which is a Gnostic belief.  The proof of Jesus divinity is his resurrection - which would be called into question had he not actually died.  His marital status has nothing to do with that.  It might upset some celibates who are aiming to follow Christ with their lifestyle, but that is a matter of personal discipline, not theology.
9 years ago
Dear Michael You are certainly correct in saying the Church at times promotes films that it objects to, to wit The Temptation of Christ ( I am not sure if this is the correct title).  However, Hollywood films are so powerful and well made that the production of the film itself insures it authenticity to many viewers.  It would seem that if the Church did not respond, at least to some extent, it could be taken as a confirmation of the truth of the production.  We all take Hollywood with a grain of salt and smile at the eccentricites of its actors (actresses not longer exist), but we cannot fail to know the power of the screen.  Who can doubt that the film JFK with its conspiracies of the Army, FBI, CIA, Mafia, and maybe the Dallas police is not believed by a certain portion of the population?  It is too bad that the Church has to comment of films that simply engage in fantasies. The effect is often the exact opposite of the intention, but it may be necessary.
9 years ago
I find it offensive that the author likens the catholic League to "neo-Jansenists".  Normally, I would slough off such a remark.  But this is punlished in America.  The flagship publication of the American Jesuit Society of Jesus.
9 years ago
I'm fascinated that those who feel they need to defend the faith worry so much about the image of the Catholic Church in the media.  Even with the moors, crusades, inquisition and a few years where we had 3 popes at once - we survived and thrived.  I doubt that Mother Church truly needs any defense from attacks from Ron Howard by a few well-meaning Catholics with big hearts when the Holy Spirit is her guide and hope. I have yet to see anything come out of Hollywood that isn't fiction - even the ''true stories'' are not true in the sense that it's always someone's interpretation of what happened.  Hollywood is subjective, always has been, always will be.    Anyone foolish enough to believe that great entertainment is truth should be allowed their fantasy for a few moments and then given an encyclopedia, dictionary and a glass of sherry to help dull the pain of what they may find to be real. Those who read any of Brown's books as other than pure entertainment and fiction will probably not be convinced of the actualities of the politics of the Church by a ranting, wide-eyed defender. If L'Osservatore isn't worried about it, Il Papa himself isn't in a panic - I wonder how productive it is for those of us Pew Potatoes to get up in arms over this movie?  Surely we have bigger fish to fry, like the injustice of the war in the Congo and the fact that the US makes the most refuse in the world?


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