The controversial religious sect, Opus Dei has accused the BBC of portraying its members as "murderers, thieves and adulterers" in a furious row over a popular fictional drama.
The secretive Catholic organisation lodged an official complaint of defamation on Tuesday after the award-winning drama, Waking the Dead showed an episode featuring a murder investigation of a Opus Dei devotee.
Religious leaders have condemned the episode of the BBC drama shown this week as deeply offensive, accusing programme makers of portraying members as "pious hypocrites and murderers bent on acquiring wealth and power".
In the drama, a spurned Opus Dei member exacts revenge on his lover, a married woman - also a member of the sect - by shooting her and his love rival to death in what the organisation has called "gratuitous scenes of sex and violence".
The episode entitled "The Fall" shown to an estimated audience of eight million viewers, also sees the fictional head of Opus Dei being portrayed as a shadowy figure pursuing wealth and influence.
Last night a spokesman for the community, which the former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is a member of, accused the corporation of copying ideas from the Hollywood blockbuster Da Vinci Code, whose plot also revolves around a murdering Opus Dei member.
Jack Valero said: "In this programme Opus Dei was portrayed as an organisation of murderers, thieves and adulterers who justify and cover up evil actions while hiding behind a veneer of hypocritical piety and penitential rituals of self-flagellation.
"The three characters were portrayed as members are self-serving hypocrites whose main reason for belonging to Opus Dei is depicted as being their wealth.
"This portrayal is lifted from the Da Vinci Code, a book and film which claimed – against all evidence - to be based on fact."
The religious organisation has also accused makers of the two-part BBC 1 drama shown on Sunday, January 21 and 22 of breaching the corporation's strict guidelines on religious prejudice.
Mr Valero added: "Members of Opus Dei are Catholics, they are not going around killing people, having sex with married people and making money.
"It is a completely false portrayal. Whilst the BBC chose to create a fictional bank for the programme, it chose not to create a fictional religious organisation.
"We believe that it is irresponsible of the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, to have perpetuated that prejudice, in breach of its editorial guidelines. Opus Dei is not an anonymous corporation but a family with feelings and values."
The gritty series, Waking the Dead, featuring actors, Trevor Eve, Sue Johnston and Tara FitzGerald, has previously won an Emmy for best drama in 2004.
Last night a BBC spokesman said: "We are unable to comment as we are yet to receive the complaint. There have only been four complaints from the viewers about the show."
Founded in 1928, Opus Dei is part of the Catholic Church and has 500 members across Britain.
The stated mission of the organisation - which means "God's Work" - is to spread the Christian message and help people embrace Catholicism in their everyday work.
But it has attracted controversy over its practices including self-flagellation and radical teachings that homosexual sex is a sin.
Critics have also accused the organisation of brainwashing and being run like a cult.
Last year the ultra-conservative Catholic group became famous worldwide after its sinister portrayal in the bestselling novel and blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code.
The film, starring Tom Hanks, is based on the Dan Brown novel which described Opus Dei as a murderous, power-hungry sect.
It also contends that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, sired a bloodline and the Catholic Church is at centre of a centuries-long conspiracy to cover it up.
A murderous member of the group famously had a metal strap covered in spikes attached to his thigh, which kept him in constant pain.
The film release last May was met with fierce protests and bitter complaints from the sect, which attempted to get the final edit changed.
But now Opus Dei is bent on setting the record straight after a survey revealed that readers of the book were twice as likely to believe that the Catholic Church had hidden the truth about Jesus Christ, and four times as likely to think Opus Dei had ordered murders, compared to those who had not read it.