LONDON, May 4 (Reuters) A group of prominent English Roman Catholics is opposing a Vatican call to boycott the film ''The Da Vinci Code'', saying the movie's release is not a threat but a chance to explain their faith, their spokesman today said.
A top official close to Pope Benedict has blasted Dan Brown's best-selling book as full of anti-Christian lies and urged Catholics to boycott the new film that is based on it.
But Austin Ivereigh, press secretary for Britain's top Catholic prelate Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, said the English group would propose a different approach in a statement expected shortly.
The signatories include monks, nuns, theologians and members of the Opus Dei group, which is pilloried in the book.
Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, is not a signatory.
''We are not calling for boycotts or protests. Our view is that it is up to people to decide if they want to see the film,'' Ivereigh told Reuters. But he said the film-makers should have made clear the plot is fiction, not fact.
Brown's book, which has sold over 40 million copies, raises the possibility that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene, that she fled to France and that Christ's bloodline survives to this day.
''The danger is that by appearing threatened we give the book and the film the theological credence it doesn't have,'' Ivereigh said.
TRAP Last month, Archbishop Angelo Amato, the number two official in the Vatican doctrinal office, launched a broadside against the book at a Catholic conference in Rome and said ''I hope that you will all boycott the film.'' Ivereigh, summarising the group's recommendations, said: ''We don't think it helpful to use the kind of language this Vatican official did because it falls directly into the trap laid by Dan Brown, which is that the Church is defensive because it is engaged in a 2,000-year-old cover-up.'' The movie, which stars Tom Hanks and premieres this month at the Cannes film festival, is being released by Sony Pictures division Columbia Pictures. Sony Pictures is the media wing of Japanese electronics giant Sony Corp.
''We see the film's release not as a threat but as an opportunity. We are concerned that the Sony Corporation has refused to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the film making clear it is fiction,'' Ivereigh said.
''We don't take the book or the film seriously in themselves. But we take the people who read it and see it seriously. Many of them have been taken in by Dan Brown's fiction trading as fact,'' he added.
In his novel, Brown depicts the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei as a ruthless Machiavellian organisation whose members even resort to murder to keep the Church's secrets.
Ivereigh, who is not a member of Opus Dei, said: ''This is a good chance for us to explain ourselves and our faith.
''Opus Dei has 200 e-mails a day from people wanting to join.
There is no such thing as bad publicity.'' REUTERS SY RN1824