'Angels and Demons' Draws Mixed Catholic Reactions

( [email protected] ) May 06, 2009 01:45 PM EDT

The red carpet was laid out Monday night for the stars of the upcoming thriller “Angels & Demons.”

Actors Tom Hanks and Ewan McGregor and director Ron Howard were among those present for the film’s world premiere, held in a theater in Rome just a mile away from Vatican City.

Missing among the guests, meanwhile, were the church groups and members that Howard claims were invited.

“I think invitations were extended again tonight. But once again, we haven’t heard anything,” Howard told CNN outside the Auditorium Parco Della Musica in Rome.

Based off the first best-selling novel by Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, “Angels & Demons” has drawn significantly less attention, let alone controversy, than the 2006 blockbuster “The Da Vinci Code,” which riled Catholic conservatives internationally.

Aside from leading some to question whether Jesus Christ did indeed marry and impregnate Mary Magdalene, the Da Vinci Code story vilified the Catholic group Opus Dei as a secretive cult – a depiction that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced as “deeply abhorrent.”

In the movie’s sequel, however, it is the Catholic Church that protagonist Robert Langdon is working to defend, and the group suspected of trying to destroy Vatican City is one, unlike Opus Dei, that is no longer operating today.

"In 'The Da Vinci Code,' there were serious issues, such as who Jesus Christ was or the nature of church in the course of history, but none of them is taken in 'Angels & Demons,'" noted Father John Wauck, an Opus Dei priest who teaches history and literature at Holy Cross University in Rome.

“It's simply, you know, a thriller,” he told CNN.

There are, of course, still critics, including Catholic League president Bill Donohue, who says he has evidence of the anti-Catholic animus harbored by those associated with the film.

“[W]e know from a Canadian priest who hung out with Howard’s crew last summer in Rome (dressed in civilian clothes) just how much they hate Catholicism,” Donohue reported last month.

The Catholic activist also accuses Howard and Brown of alternating between promoting their work as fact and fiction.

“Dan Brown says in his book that the Illuminati are ‘factual’ and that they were ‘hunted ruthlessly by the Catholic Church,’” he noted.

Furthermore, as Donohue points out, Brown said in a promotional interview that the Illuminati “vowed vengeance against the Vatican in the 1600’s.”

“The early Illuminati – those of Galileo's day – were expelled from Rome by the Vatican and hunted mercilessly,” the author had said.

Donohue, however, says “all of this is a lie,” noting that the Illuminati were founded in 1776 and were dissolved in 1787.

“It is obvious that Galileo and Bernini could not possibly have been members,” he argues, referring to the two 17th century scientists. “Galileo died in 1647 and Bernini passed away in 1680. More important, the Catholic Church never hunted, much less killed, a single member of the Illuminati.”

In March, the Catholic activist launched an education campaign to inform the public about the alleged agenda behind “Angels & Demons” – a move that Howard personally addressed last month in an op-ed published by the Huffington Post.

He has since been requesting that a disclaimer be added to “Angels & Demons,” pointing out how Howard had opened “A Beautiful Mind” with a disclaimer noting that the film contains fictional aspects not found in the book by that name.

“Catholics, obviously, expect the same degree of respect,” he stated Monday.

“This is where the rubber meets the road: Howard says he is not anti-Catholic. Let’s see what he says about my request,” he concluded.

“Angels & Demons” hits theaters in the United States on May 15.