Roamin' Catholic

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Church as the "Heavy"

In the DaVinci Code, the Catholic Church (and Opus Dei, in particular) seems to come off as the villain. Despite, the “outrage” of certain Church officials, the Church has provided the antagonist role in many works of literature over the years. In “The Three Musketeers” Cardinal Richelieu plays the heavy, which with a fair sense of history, is not miscasting. In The Man of La Mancha (Don Quixote), it is the Dominicans that take their knocks for the Inquisition that menaced the ordinary people. In the “Inferno”, Dante meets more than one pope in hell. Among his adventures, Robin Hood has no qualms about robbing a bishop’s gold. In Dostoevsky's 'Grand Inquisitor”, Jesus himself appears in Spain at the time of the inquisition and is hauled into court. The Inquisitor is not a simple one-dimensional villain, but a conscientious authoritarian who feels people cannot simply handle the kind of “truth” of which Jesus speaks.

In several of these stories, there seems to be a strong sense that the messenger (hierarchy, ritual authority) becomes enamored with their own importance, and loses the core message – God’s love. The authority figure (cardinal, bishop, pope) becomes the antagonist or villain figure, while the simple monk or priest is often portrayed as sympathetic, faithful to the Gospel of Jesus, and involved in the lives of people in a pragmatic way. This is evidenced in by likes of Friar Tuck living among the “Merry Men”.

In the DaVinci Code, the Opus Dei bishop is not a villain to the core. With great compassion he takes in an abused orphan (Silas) and raises him. The turn to crime and deadly deception develops out of a misguided loyalty to an institution and institutional world view.

In a response to its portrayal in the DaVinci Code, Opus Dei has refuted the image of being a secretive cult (with sadomasochistic undertones) that schemes to attain power – ecclesiastical, political and financial. But it is having a hard time living down that its history. Brown didn’t give Opus Dei a bad reputation, it earned it. Opus Dei began in Spain, home of the Spanish Inquistion, and was an ally to Franco’s fascist government. More than a simple spiritual movement, it has expanded its conservative influence in the world and Vatican rather quietly.

In the United States, the presence of Opus Dei didn’t hit the headlines until an FBI agent was exposed as a double agent. Robert Hannsen, who was spying on the US for Russia, was revealed to be a supernumerary member. Some former Opus Dei members have accused the organization of cult-like mind control, and have created the Opus Dei Awareness Network. Regardless of Brown’s historical fiction and theology speculations, the Network finds the portrayal of Opus Dei fanaticism in the DaVinci Code to be fairly accurate.

There are four known Opus Dei bishops in the United States. The most recently named was Bishop Robert Finn to the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. An investigative report by the National Catholic Reporter (5/12/06) chronicles his dismantling and recreation of the diocese to his own fancy, not out of sheer evil, but perhaps in an arrogant attempt to make it more perfect through the Opus Dei ideology.


At 1:20 PM, Blogger WEORC-er said...

I was disappointed that the movie wasn't more compelling. Opus Dei got off easy.


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