Cleric defends Da Vinci Code book

Sao Paulo, Brazil -- A Brazilian bishop has come out against calls by a Catholic Cardinal to boycott controversial novel The Da Vinci Code.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, has called Dan Brown's thriller "shameful".

But Monsignor Jose Maria Pinheiro - nominated to be bishop of Sao Paulo by Pope John Paul II two weeks ago - urged readers to use "prudence".

He said Cardinal Bertone's views on the best-seller were "personal" and not official church views.

The Da Vinci Code has been a publishing sensation around the world and is still featuring in best-seller lists.

Its conspiracy theories and thriller style, in which two code-breakers try to track down the truth behind the Holy Grail, have caught the imaginations of millions.

Its central claim is that the Holy Grail is really the bloodline descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene - which the Church is supposed to have covered up, along with the female role in Christianity.

"I would recommend prudence," said Monsignor Pinheiro.

"I don't know if people are capable of distinguishing the elements of fiction from those of reality.

"It is important to talk to young people about it so that they can differentiate, but I don't think it's necessary to ban its reading," he added.


But Cardinal Bertone has urged Catholics on to shun the book like "rotten food" and branded it as "lies".

He called on Catholic bookstores to take the thriller off their shelves and accused Brown of "deplorable" behaviour.

The cardinal, who is the highest-ranking Catholic churchman to speak out against the novel, said: "A lot of novels do good but this book is rotten food ... it does harm, not good.

"This book is a sack full of lies against the church, against the real history of Christianity and against Christ himself."

But website, Brown rejects anti-Christian claims about his work.

His agent said the author was writing a new book and was currently "incommunicado".

The book's publishers, Doubleday, said they "respect Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican and their desire to clarify any factual errors they feel may have been made in The Da Vinci Code".

Doubleday said the book explored centuries-old ideas "in an accessible work of fiction".