Screening of 'The Da Vinci Code' draws clergy

Members of the St. Petersburg Diocese take in the film version of the novel, with mixed reactions.

Published May 19, 2006

TAMPA — It’s not every day that Monsignor Frank Mouch goes to the movies. The last time was 1998, to see Shakespeare in Love.

But The Da Vinci Code, the potential blockbuster that opens nationwide today, piqued his curiosity. So he brought along 19 friends: fellow priests, staff and lay people from the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

On Thursday night at AMC Veterans 24 theaters, the group joined hundreds of movie watchers, each eager to see Dan Brown’s bestselling novel on the silver screen.

Mouch, who read and enjoyed the book, said the adaptation didn’t disappoint him.

“It was a good movie,” said Mouch, who heads diocese pastoral programs and is the retired president of Saint Leo University. “It had so many ingredients: the mystery, the blood, the chase.”

Not everyone agreed.

The Rev. Len Plazewski kept checking his watch. He thought the film, which lasted nearly two hours and 30 minutes, dragged. “Two weeks from now, they’re going to be talking about X-Men, and this movie will be forgotten,” said Plazewski, who heads vocations for the diocese. “If this movie affects someone’s faith, then their faith wasn’t strong to begin with.”

Through the film, the Rev. Patrick Rebel, pastor of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Largo, found himself picking out the movie’s historical inaccuracies.

“There’s no grail; there’s nothing,” he said. “They don’t have anything. The best thing to do is really not to say too much about it. It really isn’t that good of a movie.”

Clothed in their collars, the three priests stood out in the theater, jampacked with radio contest winners and other holders of free passes. To blend in, some of their fellow priests wore Hawaiian-themed leisure shirts. They ate popcorn, sipped on bottled water and reclined in the plush seats.

Moviegoer Jerry Faber appreciated the priests’ presence and apparent open-mindedness.

“If religion is good, and it’s solid and it has something to say, it’s good to question it because you strengthen it through that,” said Faber, 55.

Mouch, the infrequent movie watcher, left pleasantly surprised.

Rather than push a religion or completely follow the book’s thesis, the movie’s main characters suggested that faith is an individual choice.

“Whoever doctored up the script did a pretty good job of ending on a note saying that faith is very, very important,” Mouch said, smiling.

Sherri Day can be reached at (813) 226-3405 or sday@sptimes.com.