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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 10:52 GMT
Da Vinci Code fever grips Genoa

By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Genoa, Italy

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa
Cardinal Bertone says many cardinals support his stance
"Who has read The Da Vinci Code?"

This was the question put to a packed auditorium in Genoa's city centre.

The answer was a sea of raised hands.

Hundreds of people stood in the aisles and even peered through the windows from outside.

Everyone was hoping to hear the Cardinal Archbishop of Genoa, one of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church, answer their questions about the blockbuster, after he condemned it as "cheap lies" earlier this week.

Flurry of questions

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sat under a vast depiction of the Last Supper - a rather apposite reminder of the controversy sparked by US author Dan Brown, with his claim that Mary Magdalene sat at the table.

A flurry of questions from the audience followed.

"Is it true Jesus married?" "Could he have had a child?" "Did the Church suppress the feminine role?"

Some were passed politely forward on slips of paper, but some were shouted angrily and unprompted.

"Why don't you answer my questions?" shouted one man, suddenly jumping to his feet. "I've come here for answers!"

Cardinal's wrath

"I want to warn many people who have read or are reading this book, especially young people," said Cardinal Bertone in an interview with the BBC.

Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown
The Da Vinci Code has made author Dan Brown a household name
"There's this stereotype that a young person isn't modern if they havent read the Da Vinci Code and a family isn't adult if they don't have it at home.

"We need to put people who have simple faith and unsophisticated culture on their guard, so they are not bewitched by the lies in this book."

His comments are significant. The Vatican has not released any official comment on Dan Brown, but Cardinal Bertone for years was the number two at the Vatican's most powerful department - the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Taking a stand

"I have not been given a special duty from the Vatican to criticise this book," the cardinal confirmed.

Those who really want to know the truth will search for it
Andy, Canada

"But my opinion, my initiative has found a positive echo amongst many cardinals, who are saying 'finally someone has the courage to speak'."

"So without being put in charge of this it's true that they expected someone to take a position.

"I think the Catholic Church is very concerned, as many people are asking their parish priests about The Da Vinci Code," says Massimo Introvigne, director of the centre for studies on new religions.

"Typically the parish priest is the only person in the community who hasn't read the novel.

"I think Dan Brown is very intelligent, as he sells lots of copies of this book, using the ignorance of most people, including Catholics," says Alessia Romussi, a medical graduate listening to the debate.

"The Church shouldn't react as though it's an attack on them, as Dan Brown is aiming at the general public."

Rallying the faithful

The Da Vinci Code will reach a wider audience next year with the release of a film starring Tom Hanks.

"I think we sounded the alarm too late," says Cardinal Bertone.

"But the book is now so widespread, I don't think the interest will mount. What we can do is arm our believers with critical awareness. I believe and hope in this."

He may feel encouraged by the vigorous applause from the auditorium after nearly three hours of Da Vinci Code debate.

But as the cardinal left the hall, people continued to hand him their questions.

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