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PAULA ZAHN NOW

'Da Vinci Code' Controversy

Aired May 19, 2006 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much. Good evening everyone, glad to have you with us tonight. Here's what's happening at this moment. Tension is running high at Guantanamo tonight after detainees ambushed soldiers yesterday with sticks and makeshift weapons. The Pentagon says the soldiers were lured by a fake suicide attempt. It took an hour to quell that disturbance.
The Senate finishes a week of debate on immigration reform, but the Republican majority leader says he still doesn't know if he will vote for or against the bill that includes possible citizenship for illegals, because many of his constituents are against that.

Now under a nightly look at our crude awakenings, the states with today's highest gasoline prices are in red, the lowest in green. The average price of unleaded regular is $2.90, a drop of $0.03 since Monday.

Tonight, the most anticipated, most hyped and most controversial movie of the year opening at a theater near you. Are you going to go and see it, ""The Da Vinci Code"? From coast to coast, millions of people are expected to line up and here in New York, the pictures tell another story. Sure, there is a line, but no way does it stretch around the block like it sometimes does with films that are expected to be blockbusters. So are we looking at a blockbuster, a medium warm film or a bomb?

Either way, is "The Da Vinci Code" an insult to Christians and especially a Catholic group called Opus Dei. We're exploring all of those issues and much more in this hour. Frankly, we're expecting some pretty heated arguments. So let's get straight to our first question tonight. Will "The Da Vinci Code" be a hit? Let's turn to entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas who is standing outside a theater in Hollywood. How do the lines look there or are they nonexistent tonight?

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what, the question is, will this movie be a hit, like you said, and I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you just that. But the way it looks right now, Paula, it looks very good. Here in Los Angeles, the anticipation has been tremendous, the expectation tremendous. So much so that at 6:00 a.m. this morning, at this very theater, the Arc Light (ph) Theater, people started lining up and believe it or not, sold out crowds to see this film just goes to show you just the following of this Dan Brown adaptation, this movie that has generated so much controversy. People want to see this film. And other shows have been sold out, as well. They've also had paraphernalia this morning, got T-shirts. They had Jesus Christ figurines, buttons, and certainly Sony is probably smiling about this right now, because this absolutely helps their cause. They're hoping to make anywhere from $62 million to $68 million this weekend. I spoke to Paul Dergarabedian. He's from Exhibitor Relations and he does the tracking for the box office numbers. He says that they will do that this weekend. He's very confident about that because of the controversy and even the fact that the critics have -- at least some of the critics have panned this film. It is waving such a huge awareness. All of this protest, even the critics, again that, if anything, Paula, everyone will know that "The Da Vinci Code" is playing this weekend, and that's going to spark a lot of curiosity to see this film. This is a hot ticket for sure.

ZAHN: Sibila, at one point you were being drown out by shouts and we see what appears to be either a real monk or a monk wanna be behind you. What the heck is going on?

VARGAS: You know what. It just started. There was about one person out here before. Now it's grown to about four or five people. They're not very happy, as you know. We've been talking about staged protests for quite some time. We didn't see that this morning, but they have come out this afternoon, and it will be interesting to see throughout the day if it gets larger and larger and not only here in Los Angeles, but also in other parts of the U.S.

ZAHN: That kind of action usually tends to inspire more interest in a film. We'll see. Sibila Vargas, thanks so much. Now, I actually saw "The Da Vinci Code" this afternoon and I thought it was better than a lot of critics are suggesting. Like at least 43 million of you out there, have also read the book. So why are some people absolutely scandalized by what author Dan Brown and director Ron Howard have done? Well, don't worry, we can explain it without spoiling the whole story for you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

"THE DA VINCI CODE": Symbols are a language. They help us understand our past.

ZAHN (voice-over): "The Da Vinci Code" is a murder mystery, an American linguist played by Tom Hanks and a stunning French detective played by Audrey Tautou trying to figure out who killed her grandfather before someone kills them. They discover that he was a member of a secret society committed to defending the knowledge that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children. According to the story, the famous painter, Leonardo Da Vinci also knew the secret and this character in his "Last Supper" is really Mary Magdalene.

Members of a group called Opus Dei are among the villains, killing if necessary to make sure the secret marriage is never revealed, because it would destroy the church. It makes for good suspense. But from the Catholic Church's point of view, "The Da Vinci Code" is blasphemous and bad theology. While the book and movie contend that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children, the church points to both scripture and tradition, insisting that Jesus never married anyone and never had children. Characters in "The Da Vinci Code" revere Mary Magdalene because she was the wife of Jesus. The church says Mary Magdalene's her real importance is that she was a witness to the resurrection which opens up another explosive debate.

"The Da Vinci Code" says that several hundred years after Jesus lived, the church voted to believe that he was divine. In church teaching, it was the resurrection of Jesus that convinced his followers that he was God. As for Da Vinci's painting, is it a man or a woman to the right of Christ? The church has no official position.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: As you can see, the Catholic Church has some very big disagreements with "The Da Vinci Code", so is the Vatican worried about it at all and are church officials in line to see the movie? We're devoting the entire hour tonight to answer some of those questions and tread even more ground than that. Let's go now to where the movie also opened today where faith and values correspondent Delia Gallagher joins us from Rome as we speak. Lovely hour of the morning there, isn't it Delia?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Paula, but always good to join you.

ZAHN: So what is the reaction of the Vatican?

GALLAGHER: It's interesting, because sometimes the Catholic Church chooses not to comment on books and films that are in popular culture, but this time it's been very different and we've heard from numerous Vatican officials and cardinals about "The Da Vinci Code." And I found it very interesting, the comments of two cardinals here at the Vatican who said, you know, this has brought forth the idea that many people are interested in the history of Christianity and in the story of Christianity. But coupled with that, there is what they call a sort of ignorance about religious history. And so they said that it's incumbent upon the Catholic Church to teach what they think is their truth about this and so they're sort of calling on Catholics to communicate better, essentially.

ZAHN: So what is the temperature of Romans? Do they want to see this movie?

GALLAGHER: Well, it's interesting Paula. We took a little trip around the Vatican to see what was happening in the movie theaters around town, and I can tell you that the theater that's right down the street from the Vatican, closest to the Vatican is showing "The Da Vinci Code" and the one nearest to that says they're sold out through Monday. So certainly, people are going to see it here.

ZAHN: Delia Gallagher, thanks so much, appreciate it. We would all love to be in Rome this time of year. The question is tonight, is "The Da Vinci Code" harmless entertainment or a real threat to Christianity, or just as Delia suggested, a great way to open up dialogue about history? With me is William Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Always good to see you.

WILLIAM DONOHUE, PRES, THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Thank you.

ZAHN: You've seen the film as I did this afternoon. Do you see it as anti-Catholic?

DONOHUE: No. It's a total failure (INAUDIBLE) that I would find it troubling. I went to see the noon showing at 34th and 8th here in New York City, packed theater, I have to say that. At the end of the movie, about three or four people clapped. About three or four people hissed. Most of us walked out pretty much like the zombies that you saw on the screen.

ZAHN: Come on, Bill, the essence of the story is that you've got a Catholic bishop that's plotting a conspiracy and potentially a murder to hide the fact that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus and had his child. You have a monk committing murder. You can't be happy about...

DONOHUE: (INAUDIBLE) there's no question about that. But the movie was too melodramatic; it was too long, the most anti-climatic ending ever to brace the screen in America. Had the movie been a success in terms of engaging the audience, I would be troubled because I do find that the thesis is invidious. Dan Brown still has an invidious thesis. He still wants to paint the Catholic Church in the worst way to his credit...

ZAHN: What do you see as the invidious thesis?

DONOHUE: The idea that the divinity of Christ is all made up out of whole cloth.

ZAHN: He didn't say it was made up. He just said it was hundreds and hundreds of years that Jesus was considered (INAUDIBLE)

DONOHUE: He tries to maintain there's no such thing as the divinity of Christ. And we have a little parity (ph) back and forth between him and Tom Hanks. I guess that's to assuage us to some extent. As I said, look, I am going to look at this in terms of intent. I don't like the intent of what this movie tried to do. The fact that I'm not upset today, that it's assuaged my concerns, is only a tribute to the fact that this movie is a bomb.

ZAHN: People are still going to see it. Even though you feel that way, the critics have said that, too. What about the point the story makes, that the male Catholic church hierarchy conspired to hold on to their power by hiding the role of women?

DONOHUE: That's a very intriguing thesis. I guess if you're going to by seduced by that. There's a lot of people who want to believe this kind of stuff. Look, all I'm saying is this. This whole controversy started because Dan Brown tried to pass off his fictional book as fact. It begins with three facts. It's all historically lies. "60 Minutes" and others are not exactly an arm of the Catholic Church who investigated this. It's not just Bill Donohue. Now, Ron Howard to his credit, I will say this. This man is not an anti-Catholic bigot. In fact he tried to soften the edges. By doing so, unwittingly perhaps it lost the punch that it had.

ZAHN: Not that you feel that way about Dan Brown?

DONOHUE: Dan Brown is a coward who won't debate me. Dan Brown is an anti-Catholic bigot. He's a fraud.

ZAHN: And finally, tonight, do you care whether Catholics out there see this film or not?

DONONUE: At this point, I could care less. I expect it will do well this weekend because of the curiosity factor. Next week is a three-day weekend. Wait until you see the numbers in June going south. I am loving it.

ZAHN: We'll watch and track those numbers. Always good to see you, thanks Bill. Now even if you don't go to the movies this weekend, you may not be able to avoid "The Da Vinci Code". Guess what is topic number one for sermons from coast to coast this Sunday? Coming up, why are so many pastors convinced that this is part of an ongoing war against Christianity?

First though, let's move on to our countdown of the top stories on cnn.com. More than 17 million of you logging onto our Web site today. At number 10, the Vatican says the pope has punished, a powerful priest accused of sex abuse. He has order the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ to retire. The abuse allegations come from several former seminarians.

Number nine, 28 people killed after a typhoon hits Southeast Asia. Authorities in Vietnam report at least 150 people still missing. The storm also caused heavy damage in the Philippines and Taiwan.

Numbers eight and seven on our list, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: So you're not going to hear any singing like this in "The Da Vinci Code," but the movie sure has the critics buzzing. Coming up, why is so much of that buzz bad?

Here is what's happening though at this moment. CNN has learned a significant number of troops are being rushed to the Iraqi city of Ramadi tonight. Iraqi troops and insurgents have been locked in a bitter struggle there for days. It's not far from Falluja where U.S. troops fought with insurgents less than two weeks ago.

The Mexican government want an investigation into yesterday's fatal shooting of a Mexican driver by U.S. authorities at a border crossing near San Diego. Officials say the driver, suspected of immigrant smuggling, refused to stop. A passenger was arrested and five suspected illegals were taken into custody. And you may remember those 5,000 FEMA trailers meant for Katrina refugees. Well, guess what? They are still parked in an Arkansas field and FEMA says that's where they'll stay in case they're needed for weather emergencies sometime this summer.

Now tonight, as millions of people make plans to go see "The Da Vinci Code", which is just out tonight, thousands of religious leaders across the country are making plans to fight the movie because so many of them believe the film is a direct assault on their beliefs. Here's a look at what they'll be talking about in church this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are beginning to build a false doctrine around one novel, "The Da Vinci Code."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "The Da Vinci Code" is the most serious attack against Christianity in the 30 years that I've been in ministry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God, watch these people stand and say let the war start.

ZAHN: Christian leadership refusing to turn the other cheek when it comes to the movie "The Da Vinci Code."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we disagree with the movie's teachings, it doesn't make sense to spend your money affirming something that lies about what you believe is the word of God.

ZAHN: Motivated by what they say is a serious threat to Christianity, many religious leaders are taking to the pulpit to combat what they call direct challenges to the very pillars of Christianity made by the author of "The Da Vinci Code" Dan Brown.

REV. ERWIN LUTZER, THE MOODY CHURCH: The problem with the book is simply this, that Dan Brown blurs the line between fact and faction. If you don't know where fact ends and fiction begins, you don't know how to handle it.

ZAHN: Reverend Erwin Lutzer, a prominent evangelical, created a DVD and study guide on the questions raised by the film. So far, nearly 8,000 pastors have bought his materials. Sunday, Reverend Lutzer will participate in a special closed circuit broadcast of "The Da Vinci Code" expected to be seen by 150,000 church goers all over the country. Aware of potential for Christian controversy, Sony pictures issued a statement, calling the film a thriller. "The Da Vinci Code" is an exciting, entertaining work of fiction that does not represent an attack on any religious organization.

Well, despite that statement, the faithful are gearing up to defend their beliefs. Roman Catholic officials from Italy to China have called for a boycott. In the U.S., Catholics have created a web site, jesusdecoded.com and a TV documentary that aims to answer questions about Jesus and his beginnings. Protestant pastor Steve Munsey has taken all of that one step further, starting his own national exposing "The Da Vinci Code" tour. REV. STEVE MUNSEY, THE FAMILY CHRISTIAN CENTER: People are going to ask questions and this is going to be the biggest contribution to Christianity and Catholicism in the history since the bible has ever came into being on the earth.

ZAHN: And the man who started it all, Dan Brown, thinks it's all an overreaction.

DAN BROWN, AUTHOR, "THE DA VINCI CODE": A very wise British priest noted recently in the press, Christian theology has survived the writings of Galileo and the writings of Darwin. Surely it will survive the writings of some novelist from New Hampshire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, people usually don't go to the movies for religious debate. They're simply looking for entertainment. Next in our "Da Vinci Code" special hour, why do so many critics think the movie stinks? And a little later on in our special hour, an eye-opening look at some of "The Da Vinci Code"'s worst villains. What's the truth behind Opus Dei? Is it a cult? Do its members actually beat themselves? Actually, a woman who was a member of Opus Dei for 20 years will join us tonight with some very interesting things to say.

Right now though, number eight on our cnn.com countdown, it seems Britain's young royals have a taste for reality TV. In an interview, both princes William and Harry admit to watching "American Idol." They also say they watch reruns of "Friends."

Number seven, we mentioned it briefly in the top of the hour, the unrest at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon says prisoners attacked U.S. troops after staging a fake suicide attempt. Number six and five when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

"THE DA VINCI CODE": Mademoiselle, where is Jesus sitting?

In the middle.

Good. He and his disciples are breaking bread. And what drink?

Wine. They drank wine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Tonight, we're spending the hour on the most hyped movie of the year so far. Opening today, producers spent $125 million making "The Da Vinci Code". Now, with that kind of money sunk into it, you would think it would have to be pretty good, right? Well, not so far, according to the critics. Entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas joins us again from Hollywood with details on exactly what they are saying. Ouch, ouch, ouch. VARGAS: Yeah, ouch, ouch, ouch and I'll tell you, when you've been following this story for about a year, which is what I've been as the entertainment correspondent, when you get these reviews back from Cannes, it's almost like you're deflated. Your bubble bursts. Here's one of the most anticipated films of the year, and all of the sudden, everyone is saying it's a bomb. But you know what, to be fair, Paula, it has gotten mixed reviews. Let me just tell you what some people are saying, OK? According to the "New York Times," it's busy, trivial, inoffensive film, which is not to say that I'm recommending that you go see it, of course trying to be a little sarcastic there.

Todd McCarthy for "Variety" says it's a stodgy, grim thing. But on the other hand, you've got Roger Ebert from the "Chicago Sun- Times." He says the movie works. It's involving, intriguing and constantly seems to be on the edge of startling revelations. "New York Post" also weighing in, giving it an A, saying that it's a fast paced thriller. I got to tell you though. I got to see the screening myself here on Wednesday. I heard so much about it. I guess our expectations were very low. But I got to tell you, after we finished seeing the movie, this audience, I spoke to a lot of people, they really enjoyed the film. And a lot of people were scratching their heads wondering, what happened at the Cannes film festival? What was happening in France? Why didn't people like the film? I guess the biggest critics have not weighted and that would be the audience and I guess we're going to find out come Monday. Paula.

ZAHN: Well, our audience here at CNN like it today. Sibila, I saw it today, as well. And I figure any time you end up talking about a film and debating it for an hour or so afterwards, it's probably better than some people have suggested. Sibila, thank you so much. And joining me now from Hollywood is a man who says that Hollywood has a history of making anti-religious movies that tank at the box office. Film critic and radio talk show host, Michael Medved, always good to see you Michael.

MICHAEL MEDVED, FILM CRITIC: Thank you Paula. Great to see you.

ZAHN: Thank you. So you saw the movie. Is there anything you liked about it?

MEDVED: Oh, sure. I think the movie does move along and it certainly conveys an ominous atmosphere. But the real problem with the film is the characters. The characters are incredibly thin. You don't know anything about them so you don't care about them. The other problem with the film it seems to me is what the novel did well is it threw up -- and that might be the right word, a bunch of arcane little details and factoids and strange items, about two-thirds of which were bogus, but they were interesting. In the movie, this sort of comes across as great gooey lumps of undigested exposition and it will give most of those people in the audience a sense of reflux when they try to digest it.

ZAHN: And if you put the level of detail you're talking about, the film probably would run 3 1/2 hours, not close to the two 1/2 hours it did. But let me ask you this, we have seen so many books adapted for film and the movie never seems to live up to expectations. Doesn't this just kind of follow that pattern?

MEDVED: Well, yes. But you see, I think that one of the reasons that people are enjoying the film so far is most of the audience, Fandango, which sells tickets in advance, did a survey and it showed that 88 percent of the people who were buying tickets in advance had read the book. And people who have read the book are going to understand the movie a little bit better and be much more likely to enjoy it. I don't think when people, in general, come to see it that they're going to embrace it enthusiastically, and one of the reasons is some of the points that some of your other guests have been making which is, the film does represent a frontal assault, not on Christ, but on Christianity because one of the messages that is repeated again and again and again in the film is that Christianity is a force that damaged the world. It suggests that in ancient Rome, the Christians persecuted pagans and that they destroyed this wonderful sexualized male/female balance the pagan world enjoyed and took fun away from the world.

ZAHN: but really quickly, in closing, though, Sony has made it very clear to us, as have just about everybody involved in this project, we're talking about a work of fiction here that was turned into a movie.

MEDVED: There's no question about it, but fictional works have messages, and the message of this film, just like "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had a message, Solzhenitsyn's novels have messages, the message of "The Da Vinci Code" both film and movie, is that Christianity is damaging and bad and the world will be liberated when Christianity collapses, which the film very clearly thinks would be a good thing. The characters say so, and it's never contradicted.

ZAHN: Well, we should touch base with you next week just to see what effect these reviews will have on the movie and look at the numbers together. Hope you can come back.

MEDVED: I look forward to it.

ZAHN: Michael Medved, as always, thanks.

Now, in the book and the movie, some of the biggest villains in "The Da Vinci Code" belong to a Catholic organization called Opus Dei. We will consider that next in our special "Da Vinci Code" hour. What do Opus Dei members really beat themselves with? Is it whips? Is it a cult?

We'll also going to go look at some of the real churches and castles mentioned in "The Da Vinci Code." Does that book or movie get them right?

Before that, number six in our cnn.com countdown. The U.S. plan to build hundreds of miles of triple-layer fencing on the southern border is sparking outrage in Mexico, and four other Central American nations. They say building barriers won't stop illegal immigration.

Number five, a House committee will review the military's investigation into a firefight in Iraq involving U.S. Marines. That battle left at least 15 civilians dead. Democratic Congressman John Murtha has said the attack was worse than first reported. The military has refused to comment. Numbers four and three right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: While our look at the "Da Vinci Code" phenomenon continues straight ahead, first, here is what is happening at this moment.

The tip that has the FBI furiously digging for Jimmy Hoffa reportedly comes from an elderly prison inmate who remembers an awful lot of activity at the horse farm the day Hoffa disappeared. As you might remember, Hoffa was last seen in 1975, at a restaurant 20 miles from the farm outside of Detroit.

The New Iraqi prime minister is just hours away from naming temporary members of his new government. Sectarian fighting is delaying the process amid reports the U.S. is sending even more troops to Baghdad just in case.

Back to "The Da Vinci Code," which opens tonight across the country. The big villain in "The Da Vinci Code" is really a group, a low-key Catholic organization called Opus Dei.

Opus Dei says it offers classes, talks and retreats to help people develop their spiritual lives. It also runs some high schools and a college here in the U.S. But the movie portrays Opus Dei members as religious zealots, who discriminate against women, who torture themselves, and even commit murder.

Let's take you inside Opus Dei now with our faith and values correspondent, Delia Gallagher, who got unprecedented access to Opus Dei's headquarters here in New York. So, Delia, what is the reality?

GALLAGHER: Well, Paula, Opus Dei is a group of conservative Catholics. They are professional people. These are people that have nine-to-five jobs. But they live a bit like priests and nuns do. That is, they live in community; they are celibate; and they give most of their income back to that community.

They practice this practice of self-mortification, which was highlighted in "The Da Vinci Code" with the monk, a supposed member of Opus Dei, who struck himself with a whip.

So with all of that, I just had to go to their New York headquarters to find out exactly what they do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IAN MCKELLEN, ACTOR: We are in the middle of a war to protect a secret so powerful that if revealed, it could devastate the very foundations of mankind.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): With the opening of "The Da Vinci Code" this weekend, a war of words between Hollywoods and Christians is heating up, and raising the question how far should fiction intrude on fact?

MCKELLEN: Witness the biggest cover-up in human history.

GALLAGHER: At the center of the controversy is a real-life group called Opus Dei, unwillingly cast as the villains in Dan Brown's book and brought to life on film by an evil bishop and a killer monk who lurks in shadows and whips himself bloody.

But what is Opus Dei?

Opus Dei describes itself as a Catholic organization whose mission is to enable people to serve God through work and everyday life. But in "The Da Vinci Code," Brown describes it as a deeply devout Catholic sect, a brainwashing cult and a secret society.

Neither Brown nor the filmmakers are the first to cast Opus Dei in a negative light. A handful of former members have made similar accusations on this Web site, the Opus Dei Awareness Network, which claims to list the group's questionable practices, like corporal mortification, aggressive recruitment and alienation from families.

COLLEEN O'NEILL, FORMER OPUS DEI NUMERARY ASST.: The main target in Opus Dei is to get people to join. They won't tell you that, but that's the focus, to get more members.

GALLAGHER: Colleen is among them.

O'NEILL: They can coerce you, they play with your mind. Your parents are not brought into the picture. You're not told exactly what you're getting into.

Looking at this makes me feel sad.

GALLAGHER: Colleen says she joined Opus Dei just out of high school, becoming what's called a numerary assistant, which required her to make a life-long commitment to celibacy, to working for Opus Dei and to living in an Opus Dei residence.

For 20 years, Colleen cooked, cleaned and waited on other members, earning a small paycheck that she says ultimately went back into Opus Dei coffers.

O'NEILL: Opus Dei preaches goodness and peace and love, but really what they do is not ethical. You give up all your time, you give up all your money, you give up all your possessions. You give up everything. Basically, living like a slave. Because you have to do everything you're told and you're not given any money and any freedom.

GALLAGHER: Last year, with the help of family, friends, an exit counselor and an attorney, Colleen left Opus Dei for good.

O'NEILL: Opus Dei is a cult. And you know, I want people to know that a year ago, I would have never said that. I still have nightmares every night that I'm in Opus Dei and I can't get out.

GALLAGHER: Numerary members of Opus Dei, like Colleen used to be, are encouraged to practice strict rituals, like corporal mortification -- striking themselves with a knotted whip called the discipline, or wearing a spiked metal chain, the cilice, as a reminder of Christ's suffering.

(on camera): The albino monk in "The Da Vinci Code" wears a cilice so tightly he makes himself bleed. This is an actual cilice, worn by numeraries around their bare thighs for two hours a day. You can see for yourself just how sharp these spikes are. Depending on how tightly you tie it, it could be pretty painful.

REV. MICHAEL BARRETT, OPUS DEI PRIEST: Corporal mortification is harmless to your health. It doesn't cause any physical damage whatsoever.

GALLAGHER (on-camera): It doesn't make you bleed?

BARRETT: Not a bit.

GALLAGHER: But I think what's so radical is that in the modern day people would be doing this.

BARRETT: I don't think it's that radical. It's our way to connect with Christ. In the most important moment when redemption takes place, he's suffering on the cross, and we're trying to be in solidarity with him in that moment.

GALLAGHER (voice over): Reverend Michael Barrett insists that Opus Dei is not a cult and that its members are not mistreated or forced to do anything. He thinks that "Da Vinci Code" director Ron Howard should have left any mention of Opus Dei out of the movie.

BARRETT: The trailers that I have seen are so sensational I have this little bit of hope that maybe it's going to fall on its own foolishness.

GALLAGHER (on-camera): He says it's a work of fiction.

BARRETT: It's a work of fiction, but it still doesn't entitle a person to say whatever he wants about real institutions.

GALLAGHER (voice over): Among those real institutions, Opus Dei's $47 million headquarters on Lexington Avenue, described on the first page of "The Da Vinci Code."

This is the actual building. It's 17 stories tall with separate entrances for men and women. Inside, separate facilities divide male and female members called numeraries who promise to remain single, childless and to living in an Opus Dei residence. There are his or her chapels, dining rooms, classrooms and fitness centers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the exercise room, also known as the torture chamber.

GALLAGHER (on-camera): The real torture chamber.

(voice over): Tona Varela has been a numerary for 25 years. (on-camera): Two hours you wear the cilice, for example, on the thighs.

TONA VARELA, OPUS DEI NUMERARY: Let me tell you, you get a little more uncomfortable for two hours. And it is a little reminder, a little etch of remembering, well, Christ died for me.

GALLAGHER: So it's not correct that it tears at the flesh?

VARELA: It does not do any harm to the body.

GALLAGHER (voice over): Not all members of Opus Dei are celibate. The majority of the roughly 3,000 American members are what is called Supernumeraries. They can marry, have children and live in their own homes. Terri Carron is one of them.

TERRI CARRON, OPUS DEI SUPERNUMERARY: We are neither a cult nor a secret society. Opus Dei is open to everyone. That's just it.

GALLAGHER: Aside from her commitments to Opus Dei, Terri is a wife, mother of four and public relations consultant who goes to church every day and follows the teachings of Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest who was fast tracked to sainthood after his death. She says Opus Dei does not recruit members.

(on-camera): So what is the difference between being a regular Catholic and being a member of Opus Dei?

CARRON: Well, I mean, Opus Dei members are regular Catholics, but I think that when you get to a point where you really want to deepen your Christian faith, you have to find a spirituality that will help you develop. And Opus Dei is that for me. You know, we're just people, lay Catholics looking for God in our everyday life.

GALLAGHER: You don't have monks?

CARRON: We don't have monks, albino or otherwise.

GALLAGHER (voice over): Opus Dei asked Sony Pictures to add a disclaimer to the movie, reminding viewers that it's fiction, but Ron Howard declined saying spy thrillers don't start off with a disclaimers. Despite the negative publicity, representatives for Opus Dei say 3 million people visited their web site just last year and many inquired about joining.

(on-camera): What would you say to moviegoers of "The Da Vinci Code?"

BARRETT: I would say to see the movie with your eyes open, not to just take things in as though everything presented is fact and true.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So Delia any reaction from Opus Dei headquarters to the film coming out? GALLAGHER: Paula, I wanted to show you this. It's from an Italian paper, and this man here is the actual head of Opus Dei worldwide. And he says Dan Brown doesn't know it, but he has strengthened Opus Dei. So I think that about sums it up in terms of what Opus Dei thinks about the whole "Da Vinci Code."

ZAHN: Of course some of tractors say wishful thinking. We'll continue to watch from here. Delia Gallagher, thanks so much.

Right now, I want to turn now to one of the people we just met in Delia's report, Colleen O'Neill, a former Opus Dei numerary assistant. Thanks so much for joining us. We heard you talk about the 20 years that you were in Opus Dei. You said it wasn't until a year ago that you would have called it a cult. What was the tipping point for you? What happened?

O'NEILL: Well, my family intervened, and they got an exit counselor to show me what a cult is and how people are brainwashed. And when she explained it to me, I saw that, yes, Opus Dei, you know, falls under all of these categories. And I thought, oh, my gosh.

ZAHN: And Opus Dei, as you know, denies this happened. How would you say Opus Dei coerces people into joining the fold? And how did they brainwash you?

O'NEILL: Well, they -- well, I was a young kid. I was 17. And they started telling me God has chosen you to be in Opus Dei, and it was never my idea. And they put the fear of God into me and told me this is God's plan for you. And if you don't do it, you're never going to be happy.

So I was scared, and I basically joined because I thought I was never going to be happy if I didn't do anything else. And they tell that to everybody, you know, that they think can be in Opus Dei because that's all they want is just spread, spread, spread. And they take away every ounce of freedom you would ever have in your life.

And they -- you think you're giving it up to God, but they just control everything, everything. And they separate you from your family. You're financially controlled. So it's very hard to leave. They'll tell you, oh, you can leave, it's so easy, but you don't know everything when you get in. You just don't know everything. You think you give your life up to God, and you don't know what you're getting into.

ZAHN: Well of course, Colleen, as you know, there are still people, the 3,000 members or so who are quite happy there, but it is very interesting to hear your perspective on all of this. We appreciate your joining us tonight. Quick yes or no, do you plan to see the movie?

O'NEILL: I'm still thinking about it.

ZAHN: Yes, I understand. It will be pretty painful for you to try to relive some of what you say you've been through. Colleen thank you, again, for your time tonight. Moving up on just about 14 minutes before the hour. That means we're right around the corner, that is, from "LARRY KING LIVE."

Hi, Larry.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Paula. I still haven't seen you. I've been in New York three days, and I still haven't seen you.

ZAHN: I know. I've come twice looking for you. You hide.

KING: Anyway, you know who is on tonight?

ZAHN: I don't.

KING: The other Paula.

ZAHN: Which one, Paula Abdul?

KING: Yes.

ZAHN: You know, I was going to say Paula Poundstone, Paula Barbieri. There are a whole list of Paulas.

KING: I think Abdul would be guessed by most people if this was family -- what's that show they used to have, the quiz show? Family Feud, and they put up Paula. Paula Zahn would finish first. And Paula Abdul would finish second.

ZAHN: Oh, that's so generous of you.

KING: Anyway, Paula Abdul is with us. Lots to talk about with viewer phone calls at the top of the hour. And have a great weekend Paula.

ZAHN: You too. Have a good show. And I wonder who Paula thinks will win in the final competition.

KING: Will it be Katherine or Taylor?

ZAHN: I don't know Larry. I can't watch because it's on at the same time my show is on. But I'll hear all about it the day after. Thanks Larry.

KING: Bye.

ZAHN: See you at 9.

In just a minute, our special hour of "The Da Vinci Code" takes us all on a road trip. The story is set in some of the most famous churches and museums all across France and Britain. Which ones can you get into? And are they the way Dan Brown describes them?

First, though, No. 4 on our CNN.com countdown, a passenger in an SUV involved in a shooting at the Sandy Cedar border crossing is expected to be arraigned on federal charges of migrant smuggling. The driver was shot to death by a border patrol agent when he simply refused to stop.

Three, in the Senate a battle over whether to officially designate English as America's official language. After a debate over details, some are calling this amendment racist. Senators voted to pass an amendment to the immigration bill calling English the common and unifying language.

No. 2 on our list is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: So no matter what film critics and the clergy have to say about the movie version of "The Da Vinci Code," the story still has an enormous ready-made fan base. There are 43 million hardback copies of the book in print all over the world.

Now, if you were to stack one atop the other, you would get -- and I'm sure you are going to try to do this at home tonight -- a pile 220 miles high. And that popularity has spawned a whole industry of spinoffs, tours in famous places, tours in places you've never even heard of before, even dating excursions.

Jim Bittermann gives us the run through from Paris.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Nothing, French author Alexandre Dumas wrote, succeeds like success.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did it today it lasts about two hours.

BITTERMANN: You down a Paris street, you're likely to run into someone either leading or following a Da Vinci tour. You walk through a London train station and you just might get recruited to join a Da Vinci code-breaking contest.

Peter Caine, a Paris tour guide, like many here, feels a debt of gratitude towards its author.

PETER CAINE, PARIS WALKS: We're all raising our glasses to Dan Brown each time we have a drink because he has really spawned the industry in Paris.

BITTERMANN: Olivia Decker (ph) is part of that industry. Her chateau just outside Paris figured notably in the author's murder mystery. So now she hosts her own guests at three nights for $2,500 apiece. And if that's not enough and you really want the deluxe tour, one high-end operator offers not only the stays at Decker's chateau, but Da Vinci stops in London and Scotland for a mere $8,800 per person, air fare not included.

SUSAN SCHOCHET, NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND: Obviously, the people here have it to spend, and I think if you're going to spend it on something, certainly on something as educational as this is worthwhile. BITTERMAN (on-camera): Meanwhile, here at that repository of the educational and worthwhile, the Louvre Museum, the reception to "The Da Vinci Code" has gone from the disdainful to the deferential.

(voice over): Since the book's first murder takes place here, the movie people wanted it for a backdrop. And since there was money involved, the Louvre discovered it was not too proud to go Hollywood.

HENRI LOYRETTE, DIRECTOR, LOUVRE MUSEUM: We don't have to be reluctant, you know. And if it brings somebody who never came to the Louvre, if you didn't read the book, I think it's something interesting for us.

BITTERMANN: In the end, just about the only Parisian institution that has not been caught in the Da Vinci dementia is the church of Sans Papeace (ph). A sign has been put up to explain to code fanatics that not all of what the book says is true really is.

Never mind, just out in front of the church, a small knot of singles are about to partake in a bit of "Da Vinci Code" rally dating. As 27-year-old Emily Delorme will tell you, the object here is not money, but love.

EMILY DELORME, RALLY DATER: And if I can win the game and have some phone numbers, it will be a good day.

BITTERMANN: But alas, not every adventure can have a Hollywood ending.

DELORME: Maybe next time.

BITTERMANN: Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Oh, it's got to beat online dating.

Time now for our biz break. Finally, a break in the losing streak on Wall Street. The Dow added 15 points after losing 300 points in the last three sessions. Nasdaq up 13. The S&P up five.

Shares of closing retailer The Gap gained after the company reported lower first quarter profits, but still beat analysts expectations.

Oil fell more than $1 a barrel, nearly hitting a five-week low with gold tumbling to $650 an ounce.

We move on to No. 2 in our CNN.com countdown, the mayor of a small Arkansas town was arrested for allegedly soliciting sex from two women in exchange for keeping their water from being cut off.

And a familiar face ran off with the top story on CNN.com today. You might recognize -- well, if you peeked under that blanket you might recognize that face. The question tonight is who is running away this time? Find out when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Top story on CNN.com, Jennifer Wilbanks -- remember her, the so-called runaway bride who vanished just before her wedding last year -- well guess what? She is not going to get a second chance to get married. She and her fiance have broken up.

That's it for all of us tonight. This weekend be sure to tune into CNN for an amazing look at how modern thieves exploit stolen identities to rob banks.

And we hope you all have a great weekend and you will be back with us on Monday night. Good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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