William Donohue of the Catholic League is on a mission. Whether it is a "mission from God," as the Blues Brothers would say, only God knows, but the goal of his mission is clear: to paint me and the movie I directed, Angels & Demons, as anti-Catholic.
For a $5 donation to his organization, Mr. Donohue will send you his glossy new booklet (Angels & Demons: More Demonic Than Angelic), in which he writes that I and the people who made this thriller "do not hide their animus against all things Catholic."
He's been making these assertions for years, going back to the theatrical release of The Da Vinci Code. He stepped up his campaign more than a month ago with a series of press releases. And there he goes again, in a Daily News op-ed last Friday, saying that Dan Brown and I "have collaborated in smearing the Catholic Church...."
Let me be clear: neither I nor Angels & Demons are anti-Catholic. And let me be a little controversial: I believe Catholics, including most in the hierarchy of the Church, will enjoy the movie for what it is: an exciting mystery, set in the awe-inspiring beauty of Rome. After all, in Angels & Demons, Professor Robert Langdon teams up with the Catholic Church to thwart a vicious attack against the Vatican. What, exactly, is anti-Catholic about that?
Mr. Donohue's booklet accuses us of lying when our movie trailer says the Catholic Church ordered a brutal massacre to silence the Illuminati centuries ago. It would be a lie if we had ever suggested our movie is anything other than a work of fiction (if it were a documentary, our talk of massacres would have referenced the Inquisition or the Crusades). And if fictional movies could never take liberties with reality, then there would have been no Ben-Hur, no Barabbas, The Robe, Gone With The Wind, or Titanic. Not to mention Splash!
I guess Mr. Donohue and I do have one thing in common: we both like to create fictional tales, as he has done with his silly and mean-spirited work of propaganda.
Mr. Donohue's op-ed and booklet also suggest that we paint the Church as "anti-reason." There is plenty of debate over what the Church did or didn't do with Galileo, but I for one do recognize that the Church did much throughout the ages to encourage and preserve education, the arts and the sciences.
Had Mr. Donohue and his allies waited to see Angels & Demons before criticizing it, they would have seen references to struggles within the Church between faith and science, but they would also have seen clear signs of support for the pursuit of science at the highest levels of the Vatican. Indeed, one of the first scenes of the movie depicts a scientist at the high-tech CERN laboratory...and he is a priest.
And it's a two-way street. As Dr. Rolf Landua of CERN said during my visit to their facilities in February, "Most physicists which I know are very, very tolerant towards all kinds of religious beliefs, many of them are themselves religious believers....When you look at the scientific way we are looking at these questions, you come to the conclusion that there's always some part which we cannot explain."
Even the current "faith vs. science" debate over embryonic stem cells is briefly depicted in Angels & Demons in a balanced way.
But since Mr. Donohue has, in effect, smeared me by claiming I am smearing his Church, I want him to know this: I have respect for Catholics and their Church, and know they accomplish many good works throughout the world. And I believe Angels & Demons treats the Church with respect -- even a degree of reverence -- for its traditions and beliefs.
I know faith is believing without seeing (and a boycott would be disbelieving without seeing). But I don't expect William Donohue to have faith in me, so I encourage him to see Angels & Demons for himself. Then he will finally witness, and perhaps believe, that what I say is true.
Ron Howard is the director of "Angels & Demons" and is co-chairman of Imagine Entertainment