Opus Dei cartoon and TV series to boost image

Opus Dei, the ultra-conservative Catholic organisation portrayed as a secretive and sinister sect in The Da Vinci Code, is looking to improve its image by sponsoring a television mini-series and a children's animated cartoon.

Telebraph, UK/October 2, 2008

Opus Dei has recently embarked on a public relations campaign to try to dispel its image as a powerful but shadowy off-shoot of the Roman Catholic Church.

The mini-series and cartoon are the latest initiatives in the charm offensive. They were announced on the 80th anniversary of the organisation's founding by a Spanish priest, Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, who died in 1975.

The cartoon is in the production phase by Mediaset, the media company owned by Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The mini-series is being developed by Mediaset's public broadcaster rival, RAI.

They are intended to show that Opus Dei (Latin for The Work of God) has nothing to hide, said spokesman Pippo Corigliano.

He said the popularity of Brown's 2003 book, and the film of the same name in 2006, had ironically benefited Opus Dei by prompting a surge of interest in its activities.

Dan Brown's hugely popular book, and the subsequent film starring Tom Hanks, depicted the Roman Catholic order as a religious cult which would stop at nothing - including murder - to cover up the 'truth' that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had married and had a child.

Most damaging for Opus Dei was Brown's fictional character Silas, the self-flagellating and serial-killing albino monk, said to be a member of the organisation - despite the fact that it is not a monastic order and has no monks.

"Especially after the film came out there was a huge fascination about us on the part of the media and the general public," said Mr Corigliano.

"We decided to seize the moment and forge initiatives to show people our true face."

Opus Dei has been tainted by its founder's past links with the fascist Franco regime in Spain and allegations of misogyny and elitism.

But it received solid support from Pope John Paul II, who made Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer a saint in 2002.

The conservative Catholic order has about 90,000 members in 90 countries, most of them lay people.

The majority live normal family lives but about a third are celibate and live in Opus Dei centres, devoting themselves to social and charity work.

Ruth Kelly, the outgoing Transport Secretary, is a member of the organisation.

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