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Philippine bishops issue their own "Da Vinci" guide

Written by: Staff

MANILA, May 13 (Reuters) Philippine Catholic bishops gave priests and parishioners guidelines on how to refute the plot of religious novel ''The Da Vinci Code'' as the Asian country gears up for its cinema release.

Dan Brown's best-selling thriller has whipped up controversy around the world with a central premise that Jesus Christ sired a child by biblical prostitute Mary Magdalene.

In their pastoral statement yesterday, the Philippines' powerful bishops reminded parishioners that the book was fictitious.

A film based on the book is set for release in Manila cinemas next week.

The bishops also issued a guide on how to deal with questions on the book, including a point-by-point rebuttal of each of the novel's claims.

''In the face of the confusion the novel has generated, we invite the Catholic faithful to serenely affirm the fundamental truths of our faith,'' the statement said.

The bishops, whose words are closely followed in the predominantly Catholic country, did not, however, call for the blocking of the film, starring Hollywood star Tom Hanks.

A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said he had read four of Dan Brown's books, including the Da Vinci Code.

''It's like reading a Frederick Forsyth book. It's entertaining,'' Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, spokesman of the CBCP, told Reuters.

The Philippine censor has not yet given its opinion on the film but there was speculation it would award a ''R18'' rating, meaning that only people aged over 18 can view it.

SM cinemas, the country's largest cinema chain, do not show R18 films. ''The Da Vinci Code'' is being released by Sony Pictures.

A senior government official said this week that the movie should be banned because of its blasphemy, but a spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a devout Catholic, said the government had no official policy on the film.

More than 80 per cent of the Philippines' 85 million population are Catholic and religious shrines and statues abound in homes and workplaces.

Some media commentators, however, wish that Catholic teachings did not impinge on entertainment.

''I am a Roman Catholic, but why should any one religion dominate our lives and determine our arts and culture,'' said Jo-Ann Maglipon, an entertainment magazine editor.

Reuters SI VP0912

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