Don't Read That Book!
For centuries, the Catholic Church maintained an Index of Prohibited Books (Index librorum prohibitorum), a catalogue of books, the reading of which was forbidden to Catholics by the highest ecclesiastical authority. This continued well into the 20th century. Pius X, in giving direction to the Congregation of the Index, decreed in 1908:
"Henceforth it will be the task of this Sacred Congregation not only to examine carefully the books denounced to it, to prohibit them if necessary, and to grant permission for reading forbidden books, but also to supervise, ex officio, books that are being published, and to pass sentence on such as deserve to be prohibited. Its further task is to remind the bishops of their sacred duty to combat the publication of pernicious writings and give information about them to the Apostolic See..."
After the end of the Second Vatican Council, with its more liberal attitude, Pope Paul VI effectively shelved the Index, and Catholics became free to read formerly banned books without having to seek permission from their bishops.
Is the clock now turning back? Will there be a new Index, at least unofficially?
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa, said on Vatican Radio:
"Don't read it, and above all, don't even buy The Da Vinci Code."
While it was initially reported that Cardinal Bertone had been appointed by the Vatican to rebut the "shameful and unfounded errors" contained within The Da Vinci Code, Bertone has subsequently stated that this is incorrect; he is speaking solely on behalf of the Archdiocese of Genoa. However, given that previously he was a high-ranking official of the Vatican's office on doctrinal orthodoxy, it seems unlikely that he does not at least have the Vatican's unofficial blessing in taking on the book.
Cardinal Bertone, who is considered as a possible candidate to be the next Pope, blames the popularity of The Da Vinci Code on prejudice.
"There's a great anti-Catholic prejudice. I ask myself if a similar book was written, full of lies about Buddha, Mohammed... what would have happened?"
Apparently, Bertone has forgotten The Satanic Verses, and the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini. I suppose that Dan Brown should be happy that the Catholic Church simply wants to ban the existence of certain books, and not their authors.
I have not read the book - it is right now about fifth from the top in my pile of unread books, But when I bought it, it was in the fiction section.
But perhaps Cardinal Bertone is correct in thinking that many people are incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction. As he said in an interview with Il Giornale newspaper:
"The book is everywhere. There is a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true.... It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies."
He was talking of The Da Vinci Code. However, it's a quotation I would instead apply to any book of holy texts.
As to my view on banning books, I would suggest to any visitor to this web site:
Go ahead! Read whatever you want. As if you needed my permission anyway.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia
- The National Post, 16 March 2005
- The Guardian, 15 March 2005
- Globe and Mail, 16 March 2005