Rabbi Michael Lerner didn’t let an archbishop’s presence at his elbow keep him from throwing a few jabs at the Catholic Church during a recent panel discussion on “The Da Vinci Code.”
During the May 31 forum at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in San Francisco, Lerner — a Jewish Renewal rabbi from Berkeley, Calif., who edits the leftwing Jewish journal Tikkun — described “The Da Vinci Code” as “remarkably ill informed,” “vulgar” and “distorted in its history.” But Lerner told the mostly Catholic audience that the central plot conceit — that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children whose descendants became French royalty, and that the Vatican conspired to cover it all up — should spark discussion on why, in many religions and cultures, women are marginalized and sexuality is demonized.
“There is lots and lots of blood on the hands of this church,” he said. “It’s time to get over the make-nice and talk really frankly with each other.”
Through it all, Lerner was seated next to the archbishop of San Francisco, George Niederauer — who became the city’s prelate after his predecessor, William Levada, was tapped by the pope to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog. The archbishop said that while there is “much to be ashamed of,” the Catholic Church has admitted, and apologized for, past transgressions.
The forum’s third panelist was Kelly Macatangay, a Menlo Park, Calif., database analyst and a member of Opus Dei, the real-life conservative Catholic group cast as the heavy in “The Da Vinci Code.” Macatangay gave a PowerPoint presentation on Opus Dei, describing it as an integral part of the church that promotes a personal contract to live every aspect of life as a devout Catholic.
In response, Lerner noted that Opus Dei’s founder, Spanish priest Josemaría Escrivá, was “a fan of Spanish fascism” who “explicitly praised Hitler.”
“These are matters close to my heart. A significant part of my family was wiped out by the fascist movement in Europe,” Lerner said.
After the event, Lerner sold and signed copies of his recent book, “The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right” in the church’s lobby; nary a copy of “The Da Vinci Code” was in sight.