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OPERATION LEMONADE: OPUS DEI'S PUBLIC RELATIONS CAMPAIGN AGAINST
THE DA Y7NCI CODE
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
O 2007 Kirsten Biondich
To my fiance, my partner in crime and lifeline during our graduate school years.
When I picked up my copy of 7lhe Da Vinci Code from the airport book store almost two
years ago, I never imagined it would lead me to thi s thesi s. Without the guidance of my
committee chair, Dr. Michael Mitrook, my thoughts and ideas about Opus Dei and their unique
communications crisis would not have matured into a formal research proj ect, so I thank him for
that and his support through the long process. I would also like to thank the other members of my
committee: Dr. Jennifer Robinson, whose expertise in crisis communications was an excellent
and needed resource for thi s study; and Dr. Robert Westin, an advi sor to Dan Brown' s Angel and
Demons and an essential guide to everything Da Vinci. Without the help of my committee, this
proj ect would never have reached its full potential.
My deepest thanks go to my parents who have always encouraged and expected the best of
me. Daily phone conversations with my mom kept me motivated and grounded when I thought
this challenge was insurmountable. I know this will not be the last time they stand by my side
through life's challenges. They mean everything to me and have taught me to really take pride in
any accomplishment--no matter how big or small.
And lastly, but certainly not least, thanks from the bottom of my heart to my future
husband, Shane Hamstra. Shane is my calm in the eye of the storm and inspires me in so many
ways that I could not begin to list each and every one. We have taken an incredible j ourney
together that brought us from Indianapolis to the University of Florida for graduate school. As
we accept our diplomas and exchange our vows all in the month of May, I will be sharing the
happiest moments of my life with my true soul mate.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S ............ ..... ._ .............. 4.....
LIST OF TABLES................ ...............7.
LIST OF FIGURES ............ ..... ._ ...............8....
AB STRACT ................. ................. 9...............
1 INTRODUCTION ................. ................. 11..............
Purpose of Study ............... .................... 13
Background Description ............... .................... 13
Opus Dei History ............... .................... 13
Common controversies ............... .................... 14
M membership ................. ................. 18..............
The Da Vinci Code ................. ...............20................
2 LITERATURE REVIEW ................. ................. 24......... ....
Fram ing ................. ................. 24..............
Framing Theory .................. ................. 24..............
Framing and Public Relations ................. ................. 25.............
Framing Analyses ................. ................. 26..............
Cri si s Communication ................. .... ......... ...............27......
Situational Cri si s Communication Theory ................. ...............28...............
Crisis Rumor Control .............. ...............3 1....
Research Questions ................. ...............35.................
3 METHODOLOGY ................. ...............36.................
Textual Analy si s............... ............... 3
M edia Sample ............... ...............37....
T hemati c Analy si s ................. ................. 3......... 9.....
In-Depth Interviews ............... ...............41....
4 RE SULT S ................. ................. 42......... ....
Textual Analy si s ................. ................. 42.............
Analy si s of Cri si s ................. ................. 42......... ..
Strategy ................. ................. 43..............
Tactics ............... .... ................. 45..............
Relation to crisis theory ................. ...............52.......... ....
Phase A the inactive phase .............. .............. 52...._.....
Phase B the active phase .............. ...............54.__......
Analy si s of Broad cast Media .............. .............. 5....__ 8....
Frames .........._... ......__ .............. 59....
Fact vs. fiction frame .............. ...............60.__.......
War on Christianity frame .............. ...............61.__.......
Opportunity frame .............. ...............62___ .......
Opus Dei Messaging............... ............... 63
In-Depth Interviews .............. ...............66___ .......
5 DI SCUS SION ........._ ....... __. ...............70...
Summary of Opus Dei' s Campaign .............. ...............70.__. ....
Textual Analy si s............... ............... 7
Thematic Analysis............... ................73
Fact vs. Fiction ................. ...............73........... ....
War on Christianity ................. ...............74................
Opportunity ................. ...............74.......... ......
M essaging ................. ...............75.......... ......
Interview s ................... ............... ...............76......
Implications for Public Relations ................. ... ........... ... ......... ............7
Limitations of Study and Recommendations for Future Research ................. ............... ....78
A OPUS DEI' S COMMUNICATIONS PLAN ................. ...............80...............
B THEMATIC ANALYSIS SHEET ................. ...............89................
C THEMATIC ANALY SI S BOOK ................. ................. 9......... 1....
LIST OF REFERENCES ................. ...............94................
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................. ...............98.......... ......
LIST OF TABLES
2-1 Crisis types and definitions................ ..............3
4-1 Maj or events during Opus Dei' s 7Jhe Da Vinci Code cri si s .........__. ....... ._.. ............44
4-2 Frequency of frames in stories ...........__......___ ...............60..
4-3 Frequency of "fact vs. fiction" frame by network ........._._.._......_.. ....._.._........6
4-4 Frequency of "war on Christianity" frame by network ............... ..... ............... 6
4-5 Frequency of "opportunity" frame by network ................. ...............63........... ..
4-6 Amount of stories featuring Opus Dei messaging ................. ...............65..............
4-7 Amount of stories featuring and correcting Opus Dei controversies ............... ............._...66
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1 A cilice. Some Opus Dei members use a cilice to practice corporal mortification. .......... 16
1-2 A discipline. A cordlike whip used during corporal mortification. .............. .................. 17
2-1 Matching crises and communications strategies. .............. ...............31....
4-1 Opus Dei' s Web site page about 7He Da Vinci Code ................. ............... 46...........
4-3 Opus Dei' s brochure box for fans of 7He Da Vinci Code ................. ................. ....._49
4-4 Frequency of broadcast media coverage .....__.....___ ..........._ ...........5
4-5 Frequency of stories by network ..........._ .......__ .............. 59.
4-6 Frequency of total instances of coverage by network ......____ ........._ ................59
4-7 Number of individuals quoted in stories ..........._.....___ ...............64
4-8 Number of Opus Dei sources vs. opposition sources............... .................64
Abstract of Thesi s Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication
OPERATION LEMONADE: OPUS DEI'S PUBLIC RELATIONS CAMPAIGN AGAINST
THE DA VINCI CODE
Chair: Michael Mitrook
Major: Mass Communication
With over 60 million copies sold worldwide, 7Jhe Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is one of
the most successful works of fiction ever published. However, the success of this novel and
maj or motion picture created a real-life crisis for the lay Catholic organization called Opus Dei.
The murder mystery sensationalized parts of Opus Dei's controversial past and practices
including corporal mortification, recruiting techniques and cult-like behavior and presented them
as fact in the novel's opening disclaimer. This relatively small, unknown group within the
Catholic Church was now portrayed as a sinister, secretive organization to millions of readers all
over the world.
The review of literature shows the importance of cri si s communications as a public
relations function and underlines the maj or strategies organizations should consider when
dealing with a potentially damaging situation. Additionally, framing theory and its relationship to
public relations is discussed.
The goal of this research was to fully explore the public relations efforts of Opus Dei
during its three-year crisis with 7Jhe Da Vinci Code through a textual analysis of Internet, print
and broadcast media and in-depth interviews with key members of Opus Dei's communications
staff. The thesis also includes a detailed background of Opus Dei featuring several key
controversies surrounding the organization and a timeline of the cri si s focusing on maj or events
and public relations activities.
The research results identified Opus Dei's situation as a rumor crisis and showed that
although the recommended crisis management strategy was to attack the accuser, Opus Dei
chose to instead to respectfully refute 7Jhe Da Vinci Code and embark on an informational
campaign to tell their version of the truth. Opus Dei's decision to not attack Brown or Sony
Pictures was typical of many religious organizations facing cri si s and reinforced the
organization' s relationship with their primary stakeholders--the Catholic Church. Opus Dei
turned to its internal allies, its membership and other Catholic organizations, for support through
Additionally, Opus Dei focused on making the media an ally by giving journalists
unprecedented access to Opus Dei's headquarters and responding to all media and information
inquiries. In return, the analysis of broadcast media shows that Opus Dei effectively employed
many of its key messages and was able to present its side of the story to the public.
With over 60 million copies sold worldwide according to The New York Times, it' s hard
not to notice Dan Brown' s novel The Da Vinci Code. The members of the relatively small
Catholic religious organization called Opus Dei were not ready for the attention they were about
to receive from this groundbreaking, genre-bending fiction novel. The organization had seen
their share of headlines in the past, with accusations of brain-washing, secret rituals and cult-like
dominance, but nothing could prepare them for the media barrage created by the overwhelming
success of The Da Vinci Code.
Most research and material written about Opus Dei is from current and former members of
the organization and members of the Catholic Church. Such titles include Ordinary Work,
Extraordinary Grace: M~y Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei (2006) by Scott Hahn and Opus Dei:
Leadership and Vision in Today 's Catholic Church (1994) by Vittorio Messori. While these titles
present much information and opinion about the organization, they are often considered as one-
sided interpretations of Opus Dei. However, respected CNN analyst and Vatican reporter John L.
Allen, Jr. tackled both sides of Opus Dei in his book, Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the
Myths and Reality of the M~ost Controversial Force in the Catholic Church (2005). The primary
researcher, who was raised Catholic but had never heard of Opus Dei before The Da Vinci Code,
turned to Allen' s work for an even-handed interpretation of the organization.
H~e Da Vinci Code paints an ominous portrait of Opus Dei in its 454 pages. One of the
novel's central antagonists, Silas, is an albino monk who stops at nothing, even murder, in the
name of Opu s Dei.
"Jesus had but one true message," Sister Sandrine said defiantly. "I cannot see that
message in Opus Dei." A sudden explosion of rage erupted behind the monk's eyes. He
lunged, lashing out with the candle stand like a club. As Sister Sandrine fell, her last
feeling was an overwhelming sense of foreboding (Brown, 2003, 136).
Silas' portrayal, along with other fictional Opus Dei members, caused great concern in the real-
life organization. The novel sensationalized Opus Dei's controversial past and presented a
frightening portrait of the organization to tens of millions of readers, most of whom had never
heard of Opus Dei. However, there are two sides to every controversy. In addition to their
scandal-filled past, Opus Dei's teachings and practices often attract criticism from outsiders and
even former members. While Dan Brown undoubtedly misrepresented the true nature of Opus
Dei, this religious organization was not without its own troubles.
Although the novel first hit bookshelves in 2003, Opus Dei was fairly quiet until 2006.
Why the sudden shift to high-gear public relations? Sony Pictures Entertainment aired the first
series of previews for their new summer blockbuster featuring the work of Oscar-winning
director Ron Howard and actor Tom Hanks-7hze Da Vinci Code movie. Yet, Opus Dei's
response to both the novel and the theatrical release was anything but hostile. Brian Finnerty,
Opus Dei's director of U.S. media relations, said in a recent interview, "You have to have a
sense of humor. Countering a novel and a movie is a little bit like fighting against smoke. If you
swing at it with boxing gloves, you wind up looking a little silly" (Eisenberg, 2006). Instead, the
organization attempted to, as Carol Eisenberg of Newsday put it, "make lemonade out of 'Da
Vinci Code' lemons" (Eisenberg, 2006).
And so, they are adopting a new strategy: There will be no calls for boycotts. No angry
denunciations. Instead of fighting against popular culture, Opus Dei--along with the U. S.
Conference of Catholic Bi shops and many leading Protestant evangelicals--will attempt to
ride the giant wave created by Sony Pictures Entertainment, exploiting it as a 'teachable
moment' with their own films, books, Web sites and discussion groups (Eisenberg, 2006).
Rather than urging members and the general public to not buy the book or see the film, Opus Dei
decided to focus on setting the record straight in the media through a series of key messages and
stories. The communications staff answered all media inquiries, granted on-site interviews, and
allowed cameras inside Opus Dei headquarters in an effort to show they had nothing to hide and
were not the secretive, cult-like organization depicted in 7He Da Vinci Code.
H~e Da Vinci Code book and movie attacked Opus Dei' s reputation and left the
organization with little choice but to respond to the rumors and correct controversies in the
media. Opus Dei rallied their members and solidified partnerships with other Christian and
Catholic groups to get their message of "the real Opus Dei" out to the media. This crisis case is
an excellent example of how a small religious organization fought rumor and controversy
without hostility against a hugely successful pop culture phenomenon.
Purpose of Study
The purpose of this study is to utilize qualitative methods of research to fully explore Opus
Dei's informational public relations campaign against 7He Da Vinci Code book and movie.
Through a textual analysis of the campaign and broadcast media coverage and in-depth
interviews with Opus Dei communications staff, this study hopes to determine whether Opus
Dei's communication efforts to portray "the real Opus Dei" were successful over the course of
7He Da Vinci Code crisis. In addition, this study hopes to provide an example to other religious
and non-profit organizations on how to effectively combat rumors and establish beneficial
relationships with media.
Opus Dei History
Filled with controversy, antiquated and often misunderstood orthodox practices, Opus
Dei's past is certainly open to criticism and rumor propagation. "To me the entire history of
Opus Dei seems to be a succession of paradoxes," said Joan Estruch, a professor of sociology at
the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Estruch, 1995, 260). Founded in 1928 by Saint
Josemaria Escriva, Opus Dei has been a controversial institution since its establishment. "Inside
the church, it is unusual for a group to bring together men and women, and lay people and
clergy, in one association to spread the Gospel" (Zoll, 2006). EscrivB was one source of the
controversy. Opus Dei's founder was beatified in 1992 and canonized in 2002, drawing much
criticism from those who thought EscrivB's life was far from that of a saint. Some critics said he
was controlling, paranoid and had an explosive temper (Allen, 2005). EscrivB' s questionable
political ties to the Franco regime also didn't sit well amongst Opus Dei opponents. He sent a
congratulatory letter to General Francisco Franco applauding his rise to power and his work in
restoring Catholicism in Spain. In addition, "Opus Dei had its most notable growth in the period
from the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939 to the death of EscrivB in 1975, a period of time
that overlaps with the reign of Gen. Francisco Franco" (Allen, 2005, 56). Yet, the debate
surrounding EscrivB only scratches the surface of Opus Dei controversies.
Those outside the church criticize Opus Dei for its power within the Vatican, recruiting
techniques, practice of corporal mortification, secrecy and sizeable wealth. "Questions about
whether Opus Dei has outside influence grew when Pope John Paul II granted the group a uniqu e
status in the church in 1982, and 10 years later set the group's founder EscrivB on an unusually
speedy track to sainthood" (Goodstein, 2006). This unique status is commonly referred to as a
prelature. Opus Dei' s Web site provides an explanation as to what that standing means in its
section "What is Opus Dei?."
Opus Dei is a personal prelature, which is a part of the hierarchical structure of the
Church established by the Holy See. Personal prelatures exist to carry out specific missions
in the Church, so their membership is determined not by geography, as in the case of a
diocese, but by personal incorporation into the prelature. The Opus Dei Prelature is
governed worldwide by a Prelate in Rome, Bishop Javier Echevarria (opusdei.org).
Some critics of the religious organization see its prelature status as not only unusual, but
threatening to other sects of Catholicism, as the organization' s reputation, whether good or bad,
can come back to haunt the Vatican.
Another maj or source of critic sm lies within Opus Dei's recruiting techniques. John Allen,
CNN Vatican Analy st and author of Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the M~yths and Reality
of the M~ost Controversial Force in the Catholic Church (2005), notes three elements of
contention concerning the issue of Opus Dei recruiting:
* That Opus Dei, as a matter of both policy and practice, is constantly seeking new members
* That Opus Dei is methodical, highly organized, and effective in its approach to recruiting
* That part of Opus Dei's effectiveness arises from deception, manipulation, and coercion
(Allen, 2005, 348)
These three points and other criticisms depict Opus Dei as a relentless recruiting machine often
preying on young, impressionable college students in order to grow in influence and power. In
response to Allen' s interviews about the subj ect, Opus Dei said, "they have no interest in
coercing someone into joining Opus Dei. The last thing the world needs are more embittered ex-
members of Opus Dei" (Allen, 2005, 347). More importantly, Opus Dei believes that
membership in its organization is "a vocation given from God" and therefore, does not make it a
policy to constantly recruit (Allen, 2005).
Yet, one of the oldest forms of penance in the Catholic Church is one of the most criticized
Opus Dei practices. Corporal mortification means "self-inflicted physical pain intended to tame
the flesh and unite Christians with the suffering of Christ" (Allen, 2005, 162). The most devout
members of Opus Dei, called numeraries and priests, practice this self-mortification with devices
called a cilice and a discipline. A cilice (Figure 1-1) is a spiked metal band worn around the
Figure 1-1. A cilice. Some Opus Dei members use a cilice to practice corporal mortification.
thigh for two hours each day. Silas, the albino Opus Dei monk character depicted in 7He Da
Vinci Code, wore a cilice and used it in gruesome, frightening detail.
Looking down, he examined the spiked cilice belt clamped around his thigh. All true
followers of The Way wore this device--a leather strap, studded with sharp metal barbs
that cut into the flesh as a perpetual reminder of Christ' s suffering. Grasping the buckle, he
cinched it one notch tighter, wincing as the barbs dug deeper into his flesh. Exhaling
slowly, he savored the cleansing ritual of the pain (Brown, 2003, 14).
Opus Dei says that the cilice only leaves "small prick holes in the flesh" and is not the bloody,
barbaric instrument depicted in 7He Da Vinci Code (Allen, 2005). In addition to the cilice,
numeraries also use a discipline (Figure 1-2), which is a cordlike whip, as part of corporal
mortification. Members strike the discipline across their back or buttocks once a week or more
while reciting a prayer, either the Hail Mary or Our Father. H~e Da Vinci Code also depicted
Silas using the discipline in disturbing terms, describing it as a "heavy knotted rope" which was
"slashing at his flesh" (Brown, 2003). The media and contemporary culture sensationalize Opus
Dei's practice of corporal mortification because it appears medieval, archaic and ruthless in
today' s society. However, it is important to note that Opus Dei did not create this historical
Figure 1-2. A discipline. A cordlike whip used during corporal mortification.
Newly appointed Opus Dei spokesperson Terri Carron tackled the topic of corporal mortification
in an interview with Diane Sawyer.
Are there physical penances in the church? Yes. Did Opus Dei invent them? No. No, of
course not. You know, Mother Teresa, I mean, everybody knows her life. Most people
wouldn't think she'd need any more penance, but she did practice forms of penance. So did
Padre Pio. So did Paul VI. I mean, many people in the church. This is not new. But it
wasn't invented by Opus Dei (Sawyer, 2006).
Opus Dei is an organization steeped in tradition and committed to orthodox teachings of the past.
Attention has also been paid to Opus Dei's wealth and assets. "It has a reputation for
cultivating the rich or those soon to be, at both elite colleges and its own institutions" (Biema,
2006, 58). The organization has schools, training centers, residences and other properties all over
the world, some under "bland names like Heights or Northridge Prep" and some lacking any
identification at all (Biema, 2006). This lack of descriptive signage is also the case with Opus
Dei's New York Headquarters which simply bears the sign, "Murray Hill Place." Critics of the
Opus Dei equate the absence of their name from buildings and centers with secrecy. These
centers all serve the central purpose of furthering Opus Dei's mission of bringing holiness into
the ordinary, daily life and serve as retreats for the lay faithful. Opus Dei has also been rumored
to force members to hand over their salaries to the organization. Many members live a very
modest life while working in a professional career, allowing them to donate a sizeable portion of
their income to support Opus Dei's centers and activities.
Becoming a member of Opus Dei doesn't happen overnight. It is a long process with
several stages resulting in a lifetime commitment to the organization. The first stage called
"whistling" is one in which the prospective member writes a letter to Opus Dei requesting
admission (Allen, 2005). Six months later, the member goes through the admission phase in
which a small ceremony is held where the member "verbally agrees to live in the spirit of Opus
Dei." (Allen, 2005, 22). A year later, oblation occurs where "a formal contract is executed
between the member and Opus Dei." Up until the last stage called fidelity, the member is
expected to make an annual renewal of their commitment to Opus Dei. If they fail to do so, they
are no longer considered a member. The last stage of becoming a full-fledged Opus Dei member
is called fidelity and is five years after the oblation phase. "One is now a permanent member of
the 'supernatural family' of Opus Dei, and in order to leave at this stage, one should write a letter
to the prelate informing him of one' s intentions" (Allen, 2005, 22). The entire process to become
a member from the initial letter of admission takes roughly six and a half years--hardly a
commitment for the faint of heart.
According to Opus Dei, there are 87,000 members, of which only 3,000 reside in the
United States (opusdei.org). Furthermore, members are divided into three main classifications:
priests (exclusively male), numeraries and supernumeraries. Roughly 1,800 members (2%) are
priests. "Their main pastoral ministry is to serve the faithful of the Prelature and the apostolic
activities promoted by them" (opusdei.org). The majority of members (70%) are considered
supernumeraries, most of them married with children, living in their own residences, and
working full-time j obs (opusdei.org).The final classification of numerary is where 7He Da Vinci
Code focuses its attention. The character of Silas is an Opus Dei numerary and regularly
practices corporal mortification and lives in an Opus Dei Center. The real-life numeraries make
up roughly 20% of Opus Dei' s membership and commit to a life of celibacy. These members
"usually live in centers of Opus Dei, and are completely available to attend to the apostolic
undertakings and the formation of the other faithful of the Prelature," (opusdei.org). Like
supernumeraries, some numeraries have professional careers while others work full-time for
Opus Dei. As mentioned earlier, these members often give the most back to Opus Dei which has
caused much speculation. "Numeraries in the United States who make healthy salaries often run
afoul of the Internal Revenue Service, since it' s hard for the IRS to swallow that somebody
making $200,000 gives $150,000 to charity" (Allen, 2005, 24).
So exactly who belongs to Opus Dei? There isn't a list of members available to the public
to peruse, and it is not likely there ever will be. "Opus Dei's historic resistance to revealing the
names of its members, leaving that decision to individuals, has sparked claims that it is a cult,"
(Zoll, 2006). Yet, some ex-members of the organization have reluctantly come forward to stir the
controversy pot. Notable among them are ex-FBI agent Robert Hanssen who pleaded guilty in
2001 to spying for the Soviet Union, acknowledging that he admitted his crimes to an Opus Dei
priest (Goodstein, 2006). Dan Brown wastes no time in making light of the Robert Hanssen
connection in 7He Da Vinci Code. Of course the ultimate embarrassment had been the widely
publicized trial of FBI spy Robert Hanssen, who, in addition to being a prominent member of
Opus Dei, had turned out to be a sexual deviant, his trial uncovering evidence that he had rigged
hidden video cameras in his own bedroom so his friends could watch him having sex with his
wife. 'Hardly the pastime of a devout Catholic,' the judge had noted (Brown, 2003, 3 0).
While the Robert Hanssen controversy might have been a blow to Opus Dei, its members were
anything but quiet during 7He Da Vinci Code crisis. Many members came forth publicly to
defend the organization and show that they were indeed normal, everyday people and not the
evil, plotting murderous monks that the book and film had made them out to be.
The Da Vinci Code
Before the fiction novel 7He Da Vinci Code even begins, author Dan Brown includes a
disclaimer page that partially reads:
Fact: The Vatican prelature known as Opus Dei is a deeply devout Catholic sect that has
been the topic of recent controversy due to reports of brain-washing, coercion, and a
dangerous practice known as 'corporal mortification.' Opus Dei has just completed
construction of a $47 million National Headquarters at 243 Lexington Avenue in New
York City. All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this
novel are accurate (Brown, 2003, 1).
Here, Brown sets the tone for Opus Dei that pervades throughout the novel--one embroiled in
secrecy, intrigue, and of course, conspiracy.
The novel centers its attention on a renowned Harvard professor of symbology (a fictional
discipline), Robert Langdon, who is summoned to Paris' Louvre Museum to help solve the
murder of the museum' s curator. Langdon then becomes the prime suspect and with the help of
the curator' s granddaughter, escapes arrest. They work together to solve complex codes and
secrets found in Leonardo Da Vinci's famous masterpieces including 7He Last Supper. As they
come closer to solving one of mankind' s greatest mysteries, that of the Holy Grail, the identities
of the true murderers become clear. In the end, Langdon is cleared of all wrongdoing, and the
Holy Grail's whereabouts are revealed to be at the Louvre in Pari s (Brown, 2003).
The larger topic at hand in 7He Da Vinci Code is Jesus Christ' s divinity. According to the
book, Mary Magdalene, a devoted disciple, was the wife of Jesus and was pregnant with his
daughter when he was crucified. Furthermore, the book ascertains that Mary Magdalene herself
was the Holy Grail, the bearer of Jesus' blood, and not a physical chalice as thought in Christian
theology. This alternative Christian history appeared in several texts before Brown' s The Da
Y7nci Code. Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation are both books Brown
acknowledged as inspiration for his best-selling novel. In fact, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy
Grail found The Da Yinci Code to be so similar to their 1982 work that they filed a lawsuit
against Brown in London in 2006. Interestingly, Random House, the publisher who released
Holy Blood, Holy Grail, also published The Da Y7nci Code which calls the true motives for this
lawsuit into question. While the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail lost the case, sales of their
book skyrocketed from the publicity.
Where the real controversy arises is in the blur of fiction and non-fiction to create a
storyline that can easily fool readers into forgetting that they are indeed reading a work of
fiction. Bart Ehrman, author of Truth and Fiction in The Da Yinci Code: A Historian Reveals
What We Really Know about Jesus, Mazy Magdalene, and Constantine (2004), explained how
someone reading The Da Y7nci Code could forget it was fiction.
I knew that the book itself was fictional, of course, but as I read it (and for me, as for many
others, it was a real page-turner) I realized that Dan Brown' s characters were actually
making historical claims about Jesus, Mary, and the Gospels. In other words, the fiction
was being built on a historical foundation that the reader was to accept as factual, not
fictitious (Ehrman, 2004, xii).
The fact i s, although Brown put a di sclaimer at the beginning of hi s book claiming that "all
descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate,"
(Brown, 2003, 1), many scholars and historians vehemently refute this point and believe the
di sclaimer to be a lie. Books like Cracking Da Vinci 's Code: You've Read the Fiction, Now Read
the Facts and Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone 's Asking flood
popular online book sellers like Amazon.com. Howard Troxler from the St. Petersburg Times of
Tampa, Florida, blatantly calls out Brown' s factual mistakes. "Of course, almost all of the
"evidence" cited in the book is patent nonsense. Some of it is made up or totally twisted from the
historical reality. The story gets everything wrong from what the Dead Sea Scrolls contain to
what happened at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D." (Troxler, 2006). However, 7He Da Vinci
Code's factual inaccuracies didn't curtail book sales. The controversy created a huge public buzz
that paved the way for an unforgettable worldwide movie release.
On May 19, 2006, 7He Da Vinci Code movie appeared in theaters all over the world.
Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and lan McKellen, the movie
received lukewarm reviews from the media. "Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman
struggle mightily to cram as much as possible of Dan Brown's labyrinthine thriller into a 2 -hour-
28-minute running time, resulting in a movie both overstuffed and underwhelming" (Ansen,
2006). Despite the negative press, it grossed $77 million in the United States and $147 million
abroad its opening week (Variety.com). Overall, the movie grossed $217 million in the United
States and $540 million abroad. The DVD version was released in a special two-disc edition on
November 14, 2006, and has grossed $53 million (Variety.com).
Interviews with prominent Opus Dei spokespeople revealed their shared anxiety of the
film' s release. "Reading a print version is one thing. Seeing the color images is another," said the
director of Opus Dei's communications department in Rome (Biema, 2006, 54). Opus Dei
attempted to curb the movie' s negative portrayal of Opus Dei by sending multiple requests
directly to Sony Pictures Entertainment. First, they asked the studio to not even mention Opus
Dei in the movie. When that didn't work, Opus Dei's information office in Japan asked the
studio for "a disclaimer making it clear that this is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to
reality is pure coincidence. An eventual decision of Sony in this direction would be a sign of
respect" (opusdei.org). In a Time magazine interview published before the movie' s release,
director Ron Howard acknowledges that Opus Dei is indeed in the movie, but also says, "I don't
say it in the movie one way or the other," leaving room for interpretation as to whether the
organization was literally mentioned or not (Biema, 2006, 55).
And what did the author have to say? While Brown kept relatively quiet about movie
particulars, he did counter criticism about his treatment of Opus Dei on his Web site.
I worked very hard to create a fair and balanced depiction of Opus Dei. Even so, there may
be those who are offended by the portrayal. While Opus Dei is a very positive force in the
lives of many people, for others, affiliation with Opus Dei has been a profoundly negative
experience. Their portrayal in the novel is based on numerous books written about Opus
Dei as well as on my own personal interviews with current and former members
Together, Brown' s novel and Howard' s movie could have been either a public relations disaster
or a publicist' s dream come true for Opus Dei. Their public relations strategy was
comprehensive and surprisingly inventive for a small, religious group. The case is fully explored
in Chapter 4 in "Textual Analysis."
Frames are the boundaries found within and around news stories. Their main purpose is to
shape opinion and influence how a story is perceived. Many theorists have developed competing
definitions for frames and framing theory. One prominent communications theorist, Robert
Entman (1993), described the process of framing as the following:
Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of
perceived reality and make them more salient in the communicating text, in such a way as
to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and/or
treatment recommendation for the item described. Frames, then, define problems--
determine what a causal agent is doing and costs and benefits, usually measured in terms
of cultural values; diagnose causes--identify the forces creating the problem; make moral
judgments--evaluate causal agents and their effects; and suggest remedies--offer and
justify treatments for the problem and predict their likely effects (Entman, 1993, 55).
Framing can change the way conflict is perceived and provide an influential narrative for the
reader (Miller & Riechert, 2001). Another definition of framing is "an ongoing process by which
ideological interpretative mechanisms are derived from competing stakeholder positions" (Miller
& Riechert, 2001, 109). Miller and Reichert (2001) also proposed a "framing cycle" composed
of four phases. The cycle begins with the emergence phase, followed by the definition/conflict
phase, the resonance phase, and lastly the equilibrium or resolution phase where one frame
dominates the others, "acting hegemonically, rendering 'natural' the prevailing definition of the
situation" (pg. 113).
Cultural myths, narratives, and metaphors are central concepts in framing. Frames can be
found everywhere--in news coverage, entertainment, advertising, music and politics. In addition
to popular media, frames can be constructed by politicians, activists, non-profit groups, or a
single individual. Hertog and McLeod (2001) assert that frames that prevail in any culture are
ones that are shared by many individuals or organizations in society. "Frames provide the
unexpressed but shared knowledge of communicators that allows each to engage in discussion
that presumes a set of shared assumptions" (pg. 141). If the frame is successful, then the
individual will eventually come to see the world (or that issue) in terms of the frame. While
certain cultural frames are repeated often, changes in frames can occur from popular culture' s
innovation over time. Hertog and McLeod (2001) give an example how a pop culture
phenomenon can heavily influence a frame:
Armies of patrons experience movies like 'Titanic,' and those who do not see it in the
theater are exposed to its publicity and discussion of it through other media. Professionals
with great skill produce popular culture artifacts in the form of mythic narratives that
provide a powerful common experience for vast audiences (pg. 146).
Frames from popular culture can influence an audience regardless of the audience' s exposure to
that particular phenomenon.
Framing and Public Relations
Framing and public relations both share the goal of shaping how an audience perceives a
message. Public relations practitioners often utilize frames to influence key stakeholders and
publics by defining or limiting a particular message in order to reach a desired communications
result. Through extensive research in multiple disciplines including sociology, psychology,
anthropology and economics, Hallahan (1999) developed seven models of framing that can apply
to public relations. These models include the framing of attributes, framing of risky choices,
framing of actions, framing of issues, framing of responsibility, framing of news and framing of
situations. Of particular importance to public relations practitioners dealing with a crisis
management situation is the framing of responsibility. Hallahan (1999) notes a specific
organizational crisis of inadvertence error which "occurs in situations in which people or
organizations are portrayed as being involved in a blameworthy action when, in fact, no intent
can be demonstrated" (pg. 228). He notes that proper responsibility framing can help alleviate
Additionally, Hallahan (1999) explains his seven models of framing through a crisis case
example. Initially, a practitioner will determine whether an event is a crisis or not through
situational framing. Once the crisis has been identified as such, particular attributes of the
situation will be emphasized or understated through attribute framing. Next, the practitioner
might present the situation as forcing an organization or group of stakeholders to make a choice
between gains and losses through risky choices framing. In order to gain cooperation from
affected groups, the practitioner will employ action framing to emphasize the positive actions
needed to alleviate the crisis. Additionally, the practitioner could utilize issues framing in order
to explain the core issues of the crisis and responsibility framing to communicate the
organization' s accountability. Finally, how the organization responds and deals with the crisis
might be presented in the media through news framing.
Hertog and McLeod (2001) state that in order to analyze frames, the basic conflict must
first be identified. One way to determine the conflict is to establish the primary sources and
stakeholders of the issue. Another important tactic is to identify the master narrative which is a
"powerful organizing device...that organizes a large amount of disparate ideas and information"
(pg. 148). Hertog and McLeod (2001) also determined that each frame has a unique vocabulary
which is often created by the repetition of particular phrases, adj ectives, adverbs, nouns and verb
tenses. Different frames will often share particular items from the same vocabulary. It is
important for the researcher to identify the relationships between these frames and what content
is shared between them and how it is shared. Hertog and McLeod (2001) suggest that in order to
fully prepare for a framing analysis, the researcher should explore the topic through a wide
variety of sources, popular and independent. This precursory analysis should allow the researcher
to identify the dominant and sub frames for the chosen topic. Once the researcher has identified
the frames to be analyzed, a list of language, symbols, usage, narratives, concepts, and categories
should be developed for the framing analysis.
There are both qualitative and quantitative methods for framing analysis. However, a
quantitative approach is often chosen because it can be used to count how frequently phrases,
categories and other language relating to the frame is used in the text. Hertog and McLeod
(2001) state that "quantitative analyses are most successful when a particular set of concepts is
clearly related to a frame and the number of times the concept is used reflects the emphasis of
that concept or set of concepts in the text" (pg. 152). However, most researchers also utilize a
qualitative approach in simply making choices about the text, whether it be about what
vocabulary determines a particular frame or the presence of absence of important content. A
qualitative analysis also lends itself to wide interpretation because different researchers will
inherently identify different frames. This problem can be alleviated through the use of another
coder, interviews with sources from the text and advice from other researchers.
Cri si s management i s important to the field of public relations because every organization,
whether a large multi-national corporation or a small, local non-profit, is vulnerable to crisis.
Public relations practitioners are often the main actors in an organizational crisis and are
responsible for how the crisis is handled internally and publicly. Many communications
researchers have developed crisis management theories, but of particular interest to the case of
Opus Dei and 7Jhe Da Vinci Code are the work Coombs (1999), Fearn-Banks (1996), and
Kimmel (2004). Coombs (1999) defines several types of crises and establishes the importance of
a crisis management plan (CMP). Additionally, he outlines the stages of a crisis and advises how
an organization should act at each phase. Fearn-Banks (1996) analyzes case studies from a
variety of organizations in order to focus on particular types of crises. She also outlines the
communications procedure an organization should follow when dealing with a minor and maj or
crises. Finally, Kimmell (2004) examines rumor control from a business perspective and offers
strategies for how to deal with thi s unique form of communications cri si s.
Situational Crisis Communication Theory
In Ongoing Crisis Communication, Coombs (1999) defines crisis as "an event that is an
unpredictable, maj or threat that can have a negative effect on the organi zation, industry, or
stakeholders if handled improperly" (pg. 2). Not only are crises unpredictable, but they can cause
an organization extensive damage in many forms. A crisis could threaten an organization' s
resources and lead to "financial loss, injuries or deaths to stakeholders, structural or property
damage, sullied reputations and environmental harm" (pg. 3). The most effective way an
organization can prevent these type of catastrophic losses is to develop what Coombs (1999)
calls a crisis management plan (CMP). This document should serve as an organizational
blueprint on how to deal with a crisis when it occurs. It allows the organization to respond more
quickly to a crisis by outlining important information such as what members of the organization
should respond and the responsibilities each member has during the crisis. By making these
decisions early on, an organization can respond in a unified, organized manner which is very
crucial when dealing with a crisis situation.
Coombs (1999) utilizes a three-stage approach in crisis management: precrisis, crisis event
and postcrisis. Each of the three stages dictates its own set of actions from the organization. For
example, in the precrisis stage, an organization can prevent a crisis from happening by detecting
early warning signs through what Coombs (1999) calls the sub stage of "signal detection."
Additionally, in the precrisis stage an organization enter "crisis prevention" in which it can
utilize issues management to "prevent an issue from maturing into a crisis," risk aversion to
"eliminate or lower risk levels," or relationship building to "cultivate positive relationships with
the organization' s key stakeholders" (pg. 15). Finally, if the organization cannot prevent the
crisis from occurring, they should prepare for its arrival. Coombs (1999) notes that crisis
preparation "typically involves identifying crisis vulnerabilities, creating crisis teams, selecting
spokespersons, drafting CMPs, developing crisis portfolios, and structuring the crisis
communication system" (pg. 15). Once the crisis event occurs, Coombs (1999) suggests that an
organization follow its CMP and more importantly, keep an open line of communication with its
stakeholders. He identifies three substages of the crisis event as crisis recognition, crisis
containment and business resumption. Once the crisis is resolved, the organization enters the
postcrisis stage in which they must decide which actions to take on the behalf of its stakeholders.
Coombs (1999) notes that it' s important to give the stakeholders a good impression of the
organization' s crisis management efforts and take steps to ensure the organization is better
prepared for the next crisis.
Coombs (1999) and other public relations researchers developed a list of typical maj or
crises organizations often face. They include: natural disasters, malevolence, technical
breakdowns, human breakdowns, challenges, megadamage, organizational misdeeds, workplace
violence and rumors. Table 2. 1 explains each of these crises utilizing the definitions found in
Coombs' Ongoing Crisis Communications.
Table 2-1. Crisis types and definitions
Natural When an organization is damaged as a result of weather or "acts of God."
Malevolence When some outside actor or opponent employs extreme tactics to express anger
toward the organization or to force the organization to change.
Technical When the technology used or supplied by the organization fails or breaks down.
Human When human error causes disruptions.
Challenges When the organization is confronted by discontented stakeholders. The
stakeholders challenge the organization because they believe it to be operating
in an inaprorate manner.
Megdamage When an accident creates significant environmental damage.
Organizational When management takes actions it knows will harm or place stakeholders at
mi sdeeds risk for harm without adequate precautions.
Workplace When an employee or former employee commits violence against other
violence employees on organzational pounds.
Rumors When false information is spread about an organization or its products.
Researchers have defined several crisis communication strategies that accompany the
different types of crises. Coombs plotted these points along a continuum (Figure 2-1) with
defensive and accommodative end points. He notes that "Rumors, malevolence, and natural
disasters are at the low end of the organizational responsibility continuum. Rumors are untruths,
so there i s no real cri si s if stakeholders rej ect the rumors" (pg. 127). What if stakeholders do not
completely reject the rumors?
Rumors require crisis managers to use the denial or attack accuser strategies. Denial is
used when there is no clear accuser. Attack-the-accuser works when the crisis offers a clear
accuser who is providing inaccurate information (pg. 128).
On the other side of the spectrum are organizational misdeeds and accidents. These crises require
definite response from the organization, whether it be a full apology or some other corrective
action. Natural disaster and malevolence crises are in the middle of the continuum, allowing an
organization a choice of response including excuse, justification and ingratiation. Coomb s (1 999)
Attack Accuser Denial Excuse Justification Ingratiation Corrective action Full apology
WEAK CRISIS STRONG CRISIS
RE SPON SIBILITY RESPONSIBILITY
Rumors Natural Disasters Malevolence Accidents Misdeeds
Figure 2-1. Matching crises and communications strategies.
notes that defensive strategies "claim that there is no crisis or try to deny responsibility for the
crisis" (pg. 122). He says that an organization is often most concerned with its own reputation
when utilizing a defensive strategy. However, an accommodative strategy "accepts responsibility
for or takes remedial action to correct the crisis" (pg. 122). Here the organization is most
concerned in helping its stakeholders or victims affected by the crisis, regardless of any
reputational or financial damage it might suffer. These crisis communications strategies are good
guidelines for an organization to use when developing a CMP. However, each strategy should be
carefully reevaluated as all crises are unique and require one if not several actions from the
effected organization. Coombs (1999) explains how an organization' s interaction with
stakeholders during a crisis is a key factor in choosing an appropriate crisis strategy.
Additionally, an organization' s institutional memory, or how an organization has responded to
crisis in the past, can affect future crisis management planning.
Crisis Rumor Control
In Crisis Communications, Fearn-Banks (1996) defines a crisis as "a maj or occurrence
with a potentially negative outcome affecting an organization, company, or industry, as well as
its publics, products, services, or good name" (pg. 1). Like Coombs, Fearn-Banks (1996) also
developed a list of typical crises including: acquisition, bankruptcy, boycott, bribery,
contamination, fatality, fire, kidnapping, lawsuits, merger, murder, product failure, sexual
discrimination, terrorism and many others. Fearn-Banks (1996) also recommends an organization
have a CMP or crisis communications plan (CCP). One of the first steps an organization must
take before developing an effective CMP is to determine which particular crises they are most
likely to face. She says that "crisis communications plans should be developed for the crises
believed to be both most probable and most devastating" (pg. 20).
Fearn-Banks (1996) developed five stages ofa crisis including detection,
prevent on/preparati on, containment, recovery and learning. In the detection phase, an
organization should notice warning signs in the hopes of preventing the crisis from occurring. If
there are no discernible warning signs, an organization can also practice good public relations in
order to prevent crises. Fearn-Banks (1996) claims that:
Continuous, ongoing public relations programs and regular two-way communications build
relationships with key publics and thereby prevent crises, lessen the blows of crises, or
limit the duration of crises (pg. 5).
When a crisis is unavoidable, an organization should rely on its CMP to organize its response
because it "provides a functioning collective brain for all persons involved in a crisis, persons
who may not operate at normal capacity due to the shock or emotions of the crisis event" (pg. 7).
During the containment phase, an organization is attempting to "limit the duration of the crisis or
keep it from spreading to other areas affecting the organization" (pg. 7). The recovery and
learning phases go hand in hand and mark the end of the crisis. During recovery, an organization
works to restore business and the favor of its stakeholders. Throughout this process, the
organization should also be learning from its strengths and weaknesses during the crisis. This is a
good opportunity to fine tune the CMP and better prepare for future crisis situations.
Fearn-Banks (1996) explores what causes crises and thoroughly investigates rumor. She
asserts that anyone or any organization can fall victim to a rumor and it can cause "the longest
and most damaging of crises" (pg. 34). Rumors often have no facts behind them and don't come
from a credible source. Fearn-Banks (1996) brings up an important saying about rumors that
people often remember and give credence to: "There' s a ring of truth in every rumor" (pg. 35).
Whether or not a rumor is completely false, partly false or true, most people often believe that
there is indeed a bit of truth in any rumor. Fearn-Banks (1996) also notes that identifying the
original source of a rumor can be incredibly difficult because every person that passes the rumor
on can change it and then become a source themselves. She says rumors spread because "people
believe they are news, news with some emotional relationship to their lives" (pg. 36).
Additionally, people who "distrust the 'establishment' -organizations, governments and big
corporations" are more likely to believe and spread rumors (pg. 37).
Fearn-Banks (1996) classifies rumors into several types including intentional rumor,
premature-fact rumor, malicious rumor, outrageous rumor, nearly true rumor and birthday rumor.
The intentional rumor is started by a person or organization in order to achieve a particular goal
whether it be increased business or reputation. A premature-fact rumor "is an early version of
what will eventually be true" like an eminent business closing or merger (pg. 37). If a business
wants to damage a competitor' s company, they could start a malicious rumor. An outrageous
rumor sounds so ridiculous that people often believe it because they can't imagine that someone
would make it up. A nearly true rumor, often one of the most dangerous types, contains some
elements of truth that people often attach credibility to, allowing them to better accept the
complete rumor as truth. The birthday rumor is repeated time and time again, making it "as
regular as birthdays" (pg. 38). Like the different types of crises, rumor types sometimes overlap,
allowing a rumor to be in more than one category at a time.
Lastly, Fearn-Banks (1996) suggests some common communications strategies for dealing
with a negative rumor already in circulation (pg. 39). These include the following:
* Disseminate to publics complete, accurate information that is contradictory to the message
of the rumor. Your information should imply strongly that the rumor is untrue.
* Analyze the rumor for its probable origin and possible impact.
* Do nothing. When choosing this strategy, be careful that, if the rumor persists, it will not
* Deny the rumor publicly and vehemently. Prove it has no basis in truth.
* Get an outside expert on the subj ect to discredit the rumor.
* Buy ads in high-circulation publications.
Fearn-Banks (1996) is careful to note that some of the suggestions are conflicting because there
are various schools of thought on how to handle the problem" (pg. 3 8). Regardless of what
strategy an organization chooses to fight a rumor, it must stand next to its decision and appear
unified in the media.
An additional view on rumor by Kimmel (2004) establishes three perspectives explaining
why rumors begin and spread. The first is the functional approach which has roots in sociology
and social psychology. This perspective suggests that "rumors arise out of logical reasoning or
popular imagination to restore a sense of stability when events turn unpredictable and are
psychologically threatening" (pg. 51). The psychoanalytic approach, the second perspective,
defines rumors as "psychological defense mechanisms or fantasies produced by the unconscious
mind that assist in integrating the individual within the group, at the same time allowing one to
maintain a unique personality" (pg. 52). Lastly, the marketing approach explores how consumer
and marketplace behavior can influence rumor creation and propagation. When dealing with
consumer product rumors, this perspective suggests to utilize "attribution theory, information
processing theory, and theories of information diffusion and word-of-mouth communication"
(pg. 55). The differences between these three perspectives underscore the complexity and unique
communications challenges of a rumor.
In discussing strategies for neutralizing rumors, Kimmel (2004) suggests several tactics
that coincide with rumor characteristics. When a rumor is true, possible actions include
confirmation, product recall or modification and a public relations campaign. However, when a
rumor is false, an organization faces more strategic challenges than if it were true. Tactics for a
false rumor include refutation, positive advertising, dissemination of accurate information and
legal action. Beyond these choices, an organization must determine if the rumor is credible or
not. When an organization faces a credible rumor that is false, it could issue denials or threaten
lawsuits. But if the false rumor is not credible, the organization could launch an information
campaign, threaten lawsuits, reassociate with the rumor or disassociate with the rumor.
After reviewing literature focusing on framing theory (Entman, 1993; Hertog & McLeod,
2001; Miller & Reichert, 2001; Hallahan, 1999) and crisis communications theory (Coombs,
1999; Fearn-Banks, 1996; Kimmel, 2004), the following research questions were developed and
regard to Opus Dei's public relations campaign against 7He Da Vinci Code .
RQ1:. How did Opus Dei structure its informational campaign against 7He Da Vinci Code?
RQ2: Where does crisis communications theory apply to Opus Dei's public relations
RQ3: How did broadcast news media frame Opus Dei's crisis with 7He Da Vinci Code?
RQ4: How much Opus Dei messaging was present in broadcast news media coverage?
RQ5: What were the strengths and weaknesses of Opus Dei's public relations campaign?
Based on the research questions and literature review, this study utilized a qualitative
approach combining textual analysis and in-depth interviews in order to fully analyze Opus Dei's
public relations campaign against 7He Da Vinci Code. Textual analysis was used in order to
understand how Opus Dei was portrayed in the media and how the organization responded to
7He Da Vinci Code crisis through its public relations goals, strategies and tactics. This analysis
utilized a wide array of evidence from several sources including print and broadcast news media
coverage, Opus Dei's Web site and Opus Dei's communications documents. Once these sources
were analyzed, a central communications plan was outlined that identified Opus Dei's primary
strategies, goals and tactics for its informational campaign against 7He Da Vinci Code.
Additionally, a timeline signifying maj or events during the three-year crisis between Opus
Dei and 7He Da Vinci Code was constructed. To support the analysis, the researcher chose three
widely accepted crisis communications texts to aid in describing and understanding the decision-
making process Opus Dei applied in this situation. Opus Dei's goals, strategies and tactics were
further analyzed utilizing the crisis communications literature in order to determine Opus Dei's
crisis management strategy. Finally, in-depth interviews with two members of Opus Dei
communications staff provided the organization' s perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of
Opus Dei's informational campaign.
A textual analysis was used on all media materials (web, print and broadcast) to determine
the frames broadcast news media employed in its coverage of Opus Dei and 7He Da Vinci Code
and utilized framing theory as outlined in the literature review. Miller and Reichert (2001)
established that frames found within media coverage can influence the reader' s perception of a
particular conflict or issue.
In the beginning stages of this textual analysis of broadcast news media, the researcher first
read through the entire sample in order to establish the coding sheet and code book. According to
Hall (1975), "this process of soaking oneself to define the categories and build a code" is a
common methodology for textual analysis (pg. 1). In this sense, the researcher "works back
through the narrative elements of form, rhetoric, and style to uncover the underlying social and
historical processes and the metalanguage that guided its production" (Roy, 1995, pg. 318).
Using thi s method, the researcher also identified the themes exposed in the textual analysis s of
Opus Dei's crisis with 7He Da Vinci Code and paid special attention to the "visual, verbal,
rhetorical, and presentational codes that media employ to make a story eventful" (Roy, 1995, pg.
3 18). This particular method of textual analysis is useful in understanding "how stereotypical
depictions are invoked through the language and conventions of the press" (Lule, 1995, pg. 1 77).
Several sources concerning Opus Dei's crisis with 7He Da Vinci Code were used in the
textual analysis. Opus Dei' s Web site, www.opusdei.org, provided information from the
perspective of the organization. A search of "Da Vinci Code" on the site yielded 47 results that
include press statements, interviews, arguments, and media coverage. All of these results
provided important information about the campaign' s strategies, goals and tactics. Opus Dei's
Web site also was the maj or source for the timeline. One of the most important documents from
Opus Dei's Web site was "Three Years with 7He Da Vinci Code" which was available on the
Web page and for download as a Microsoft Word document. This document (Appendix A) was
directly from Opus Dei' s Department of Communications and outlined their public relations
strategy in eight pages. The plan was presented to the 5th Professional Seminar for Church
Communications Offices in Rome in April 2006, shortly before the release of 7He Da Vinci Code
maj or motion picture. In thi s plan, Opus Dei communications staff provided a brief background
of the crisis, gave a rough chronology of events, diagnosed the situation, stated obj ectives,
outlined some of its strategies, and offered some points of evaluation.
Print media coverage also supported the information found in Opus Dei's communications
plan and Web site. In its April 24, 2006 edition, Time magazine featured a weeping figure of
Jesus Christ on its cover with the title "The Opus Dei Code." This issue featured several stories
about Opus Dei including an interview with Juan Manuel Mora, director of Opus Dei' s
communications department in Rome. In the interview, Mora named Opus Dei' s public relations
campaign "Operation Lemonade" and referred to the communications document outlined above.
Time is historically known for its in-depth coverage of religion and talented religion writers. "At
Time, in particular, all coverage, including that of religion, still bears traces of the predestination
and manifest destiny predilections of its founder, Henry Luce, who was the son of Presbyterian
missionaries" (Buddenbaum, 1998, pg. 97). The search terms "Opus Dei" and "Da Vinci Code"
were utilized with the Lexi s-Nexi s online database to obtain other sources of print media
coverage including elite sources (sources with high circulation and reputation) 7He New York
Times, USA Todaly, Washington Post and 7He Guardian.
Through an in-depth investigation of Opus Dei' s crisis with 7He Da Yinci Code, it was
determined that broadcast news media coverage would produce a rich sample for this thematic
analysis. The research sample was collected via the Lexis-Nexis online database, a trusted
resource for broadcast media transcripts, using the transcript as the unit of analy si s. The sample
was created by using the search term "Opus Dei" in the body text, which allowed any story
mentioning Opus Dei to be included. The sampling frame included six maj or broadcast news
media outlets: ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX and MSNBC. MSNBC was included because of
Chris Matthews' in-depth coverage of the Opus Dei and 7He Da Vinci Code situation as
identified in the case analysis research. The timeline selected for the sample begins March 11,
2003, one week before 7He Da Vinci Code book release, and continues until August 19, 2006,
three months following the release of 7He Da Vinci Code maj or motion picture. An additional
three months were added to the timeline to allow residual coverage of the movie and Opus Dei to
be included in the overall analysis.
The initial search of "Opus Dei" coverage from March 11, 2003 to August 19, 2006 from
ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX and MSNBC yielded 166 results. Each of these results were
divided into four categories that determined whether they would be used in the final sample. The
researcher determined the classifications of"story," "promo/short mention," "repeat," and "not
relevant" after reading each transcript in the sample. All articles that featured relevant
information about Opus Dei and 7He Da Vinci Code crisis at length were classified as stories and
used in the final sample. Articles that only briefly mentioned Opus Dei in a sentence or in a
promotion for a future story were classified as promo/short mention. Stories that were repeated
in more than one broadcast were classified as repeats and stories that did not address the topic of
Opus Dei and 7He Da Vinci Code in any way were labeled as not relevant. After this analysis of
the initial sample, 40 transcripts were stories, 55 were promo/short mention, 41 were repeats and
30 were not relevant (for details by source, see Chapter 4).
A thematic analysis sheet and book (Appendix B & C) were developed for the analy sis of
broadcast news media coverage after the preliminary reading of the sample. Variables considered
in the analysis included:
*Time, date, and name of television show
* Sources quoted from Opus Dei, the Christian Church, and outside experts
* Presence of a scene depiction from 7He Da Vinci Code book or movie
* Presence of key Opus Dei messaging
* Key words and phrases describing Opus Dei and 7He Da Vinci Code
* The presence of common Opus Dei controversies
* The presence of primary and secondary frames
The indicators for the presence of key Opus Dei messaging were determined from the analysis of
the crisis and the researcher' s preliminary readings on Opus Dei and its crisis with 7He Da Vinci
Code. These key messages were also found in the organization' s communication s plan outline
(Appendix A). Examples of key Opus Dei messaging include: converting lemons into lemonade,
ordinary Catholics, openness and transparency, taking advantage of opportunity as teaching
moment and the real Silas. Determining Opus Dei's common controversies was accomplished
using a similar method. Based on readings of Opus Dei' s organizational materials and various
texts about the religious group including Allen' s (2005) work, several Opus controversies
including gruesome corporal mortification, questionable recruiting techniques and cult-like
behavior were identified. The three central frames of "fact vs. fiction," "war on Christianity,"
and opportunity" were establi shed through the preliminary reading of the broadcast news media
sample. Once these coding categories were defined, the researcher created the thematic analysis
sheet and book (Appendix B & C).
The "levels of agreement among independent coders who code the same content using the
same coding instrument" (Wimmer & Dominick, 2006), is crucial when conducting a textual
analysis study. A lack of agreement can result in recording incorrect data, missing important
details and making incorrect assumptions about the sample. Two researchers working through
the process to obtain a level of agreement coded a 10% subset of the sample that was randomly
selected. The first coder was the principal researcher for this study. The second coder was a
graduate student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.
A training session was held for the second coder to familiarize them with the thematic analysis
sheet and book and answer any questions about the process. The results of the two coders were
analyzed using Holsti's (1969) formula for determining the reliability of nominal data. The inter-
coder reliability coeffieients of the two content analyses were calculated to be .94.
As the Einal qualitative method of research, this study utilized two in-depth interviews to
gain Opus Dei's perspective on their crisis with 7le Da Vinci Code. In Strategic Public
Relations Management, Austin and Pinkleton (2000) define in-depth interviewing as "an open-
ended interview technique in which respondents are encouraged to discuss an issue or problem,
or answer a question, in great length and in great detail" (pg. 107). The main focus of the
interviews was to further explore the strategies, goals, and tactics in Opus Dei's communications
plan and hear first-hand accounts of how the organization managed the cri si s.
Two members of Opus Dei' s communications staff, Brian Finnerty and Marie T. Oates,
were chosen for the interviews based on their intimate knowledge of the public relations
campaign against 7le Da Vinci Code. A list of questions for each interview was developed and
included questions such as "What were some maj or milestones in your campaign against 7le Da
Vinci Code?" and "Why did Opus Dei choose to be silent in the beginning of this crisis?"
However, in thi s type of semi -structured interview, it was important to allow the respondents the
ability to "explore and elaborate about their attitudes and opinions, motivations, values,
experiences, feelings, emotions, and related information" (pg. 108). The interviews were
conducted in New York City, one at Opus Dei' s United States Headquarters and the other at a
nearby restaurant. Each interview lasted approximately two and one half hours. The researcher
took detailed notes during the interview and also asked follow-up questions via email.
The findings of this analysis of Opus Dei's public relations campaign against Tle Da Yinci
Code are presented by each research method utilized. The textual analysis works to develop a
better understanding of the campaign and analyzes Opus Dei's goals, strategies and tactics based
on crisis communications theory. The analysis of popular broadcast news outlets examines the
dominant frames found within the media's coverage of Tle Da Yinci Code and Opus Dei
situation and what Opus Dei messaging pervaded the coverage. In addition, the in-depth
interviews with two Opus Dei communications staff explain the organization' s motivations
behind their public relations campaign and give valuable insight into what went wrong and right
during the course of the crisis.
Analysis of Crisis
RQ1: How did Opus Dei structure its informational campaign against Tle Da Yinci Code ?
"We could not just sit still and wait for the flagellation of the film itself. Nobody wanted a
battleground. But not just silence either," said Juan Manuel Mora, the director of Opus Dei's
communications department in Rome (Biema, 2006, 54). So the organization took action and
created a public relations campaign affectionately called "Operation Lemonade" after the adage,
"If you're handed lemons, make lemonade," (Biema, 2006, 54). Opus Dei officials from New
York, London, Paris, Madrid, Cologne, Lagos and Montreal met in Rome on January 10, 2006 to
plan a communications strategy to offset negative publicity created by Tle Da Yinci Code.
During Mora' s interview with Time magazine, he outlined the approach the officials agreed upon
1) Turn the glare of publicity into a proselytizing opportunity. 'We can either weep, or we
can sing our song,' says Mora, postulating that some people, learning about the non-
fictional Opus Dei, will think, Well, it' s not that bad. 2) Reach out for allies: 'This film
offends all Catholics, not just Opus Dei. It says the entire church is a big lie.' 3) Engage
only in measured discourse. Says Mora: 'Any aggressive tone would have played into the
marketing of the film' (Biema, 2006, 54).
In this interview, Opus Dei announced its public relations goals for the campaign against 7le Da
Vinci Code and focused on three core ideas:
* Make the crisis an opportunity by utilizing it as a teaching moment
* Create and sustain partnerships with internal and external stakeholders
* Respond in a peaceful manner to attacks on organization
Brian Finnerty, Opus Dei's director of U. S. media relations and former j ournalist with
Investor 's Business Daily, has facilitated a more open relationship between the organization and
the media since 1995. As part of research phase for Operation Lemonade, Finnerty noted: "We
consulted with various friends and experts in PR who were willing to help us out. They told us
how to show the world that Opus Dei is about ordinary Catholics trying to get closer to God in
their daily lives, and that we're happy to share that with people," (Watkins, 2006). While Opus
Dei found itself in a crisis situation with 7le Da Vinci Code, they were able to research and
formulate a public relations strategy to counter negative publicity while also educating others
about their organization. A timeline of their three-year ordeal with 7hze Da Vinci Code is
On April 27, 2006, Opus Dei's Department of Communications presented their
communications strategy in a presentation titled, "Three Years with 7le Da Vinci Code" to the
5th Professional Seminar for Church Communications Offices in Rome. The speech, which can
be found on Opus Dei' s Web site, reveals many communication strategies chosen by the group to
counter 7le Da Vinci Code controversy. They outline a chronology of the central plan beginning
Table 4-1. Maj or events during Opus Dei's The Da Vinci Code crisis
2003.01 An article appears in Publisher 's Weekly about a forthcoming novel, The Da
Vinci Code. Members of Opus Dei first learn of the book and their role in it.
2003.03 Doubleday releases Dan Brown' s The Da Vinci Code where it debuted
at number 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
2003.09 Opus Dei posts a statement about The Da Vinci Code on their Web site
www.opusdei.org in response to inquiries from members and media.
2003.10 News breaks that Ron Howard and Sony Pictures Entertainment will adapt
The Da Vinci Code into a maj or motion picture.
2004.01 Opus Dei writes the first of a series of three letters to Sony asking that their
name not be used in the movie. Sony does not provide information to Opus Dei.
2005.11 Doubleday publishes John Allen' s book titled Opus Dei: An Objective
Look Behind the M~ost Controversial Force in the Catholic Church .
2005.12 In a Newsweek article, Ron Howard claims that the movie will stay true to the
Book including its Opus Dei references.
2006.01 Members of Opus Dei's communications staff from all over the world convene
in Rome to devise their public relations campaign nicknamed "Proj ect Lemonade."
2006.01 Opus Dei' s Rome Spokesperson Marc Carroggio publicly responds to Howard' s
Newsweek article in an interview with Zenit News Agency.
2006.01 Opus Dei Priest Fr. John Wauck begins a blog called Da Vinci Code & Opus Dei
that responds to rumors in the book.
2006.02 Opus Dei' s Communication Office in Rome releases a press statement responding
to inquiries about The Da Vinci Code and asking. Sony to show a sign ofreset
2006.03 Opus Dei updates and reintroduces its Web site in order to handle the increased
traffic due to 7h2e Da Vinci Code.
2006.04 The Information Office of Opus Dei in Japan sends an open letter to shareholders,
directors, and employees of Sony and asking for a disclaimer to be put at the
beginning of the film.
2006.04 The St. Josemaria Institute, an organization promoting the teaching of Opus Dei' s
founder Josemaria Escriva, releases a documentary called Passionately Loving the
World: Ordinary Americans Living the Spirituality of St. Josemaria.
2006.05 Doubleday releases a new edition of The Way, a collection of points of prayer
from Opus Dei's founder Josemaria Escriva. The book was first published in 1934.
2006.05 The Da Vinci Code movie is released worldwide on May 19.
2006.07 Salt + Light Television, a Canadian Catholic television network, releases a
documentary called Opus Dei: Decoding God' s Work countering the rumors from
The Da Vinci Code and presenting an in-depth look at the organization.
with the release of The Da Vinci Code novel in 2003 to the May 2006 release of the motion
picture. The religious organization defined their core strategy as follows:
To implement a communications plan that would be worldwide in its scope, Christian in its
content and positive in its tone, in order to neutralise the negative effects. Of the three
possibilities (the way of silence, the way of the Law, the way of communication) the third
was chosen. The response should always be well-mannered and friendly. Therefore style
and language were not secondary matters (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006).
Opus Dei's two principle obj ectives guided the plan' s emphasis on truth and transparency.
"There was to be an information effort to show that the real Opus Dei had nothing in common
with the Opus Dei presented in the book: no monks, no murders, no masochism, no misogyny"
(Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006). The other obj ective centered on attempting an open
dialogue with Sony, asking them "to avoid giving offense to Christians, by a free decision, not
through pressure or threats" (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006).
Throughout Opus Dei's campaign outline, the idea of transparent, open communication
drives each decision and overall messaging. "The decision to communicate our point of view
openly and positively, in a proactive way, has generated a wonderful time to talk about
Christianity, the Catholic Church and the little part of the Catholic Church that is Opus Dei
(Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006). Opus Dei decided to stop at nothing to show the world that
they are not the power-hungry, controlling organization of myth, but rather a humble Catholic
group furthering true Christian values and faith. By focusing on an informational campaign like
instead of a public attack, Opus Dei took advantage of a golden opportunity to educate an
international mass audience on what their organization really was and how it was the opposite of
its portrayal in 7Jhe Da Vinci Code.
Perhaps one of Opus Dei's first steps towards implementation was the revamping of its
communications staff. The group hired "a telegenic new spokesperson" named Terri Carron to
not only aid Finnerty by fielding media inquiries, but also appear in television interviews with
maj or networks like ABC and CBS (Vargas, 2006). In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Carron
shared her feelings about 7hze Code uproar.
C_:WHAT 15OPU5 DEI? FROM THE PRELATE NEWS PRE55 ROM MFAQ
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SThe Da Vinci Code, the Catholic Church and SITOEAI
Opus Dei rroani
A response to the The Da Vlncl Code from the Prelature of Opus Del in the igah
RECENT NEWS Unlted States. Prayer card
Many people are intrigued by the claims aboul
Chnistian history and theology presented In The Da UN e
Vinct Code We would like to remind them that The Da
Vince Code JS a work of fiction. and It is not a reliable
source of information on these matters
Bensea The Da Vnire Code has raised pubie interest In the
origins of the Bible and of central Christian doctrnes
such as the divnity of Jesus Chnst These topics are
important and valuable to study, and we hope that
interested readers will be motivated to study some of the abundant
scholarship on them that is available in the non-licton section of the library
Those who do further research and exercise critical judgment will discover
opus onl IN THE U,5. that assertions made in The Da Vince Code about Jesus Chnst Mary
F<~~ Magdalene, and Church history lack support among reputabile scholars By
way of example. The Da Venci Code populanzes the Idea that the fourth
century Roman emperor Constantine Invented the doctrine of the divnity of
Chisi tor political reasons The hisioncal evidence, however, clearly shows
that the New Testament and the very earliest Christian watings manifest
Christlan belief In the dMnity of Chnst Other examples of discredited claims
presented In The Da Vinct Code can be found in this FAQ from Catholic
Answers (Imni) For those who are willing to take the time to get to the bottom
of the Issues raised In The D Vtnci Code. we recommend reading The Da
Vinci Decepion, De-Coderng Da Vince or The Os Vinci Hoax (see Ilnks at
Wne also want to point out that The Oa Vinci Code s depiction of Opus Del Is
inaccurate. both In the overall impression and In many details. and It would
be irresponslibe to form any opinion of Opus Del based on The De Vindi
Code Those Interested in learning more about the real Opus Dei may wish
to read 11 hat. Op u:s De 7. by Dominique Leioumneau. or -:rcormmon F;;t
Figure 4-1. Opus Dei' s Web site page about 7He Da Vinci Code
Well, I don't hate 7He Da Vinci Code. It's just that, you know, obviously I think you'd be
very hard to find many people in Opus Dei who have actually read it. But the reaction to
the fact that it's out there is negative, you know, for many reasons (Sawyer, 2006).
Maybe not the most eloquent, but Carron does manage to further the strategy's plan of
"measured discourse" by not taking an aggressive tone.
Opus Dei also recognized the importance of a strong Internet presence. On March 22,
2006, they introduced a completely revamped organizational Web site, opusdei.org, offering it in
22 different languages (Figure 4-1). "7He Da Vinci Code has definitely increased the number of
visitors to our website. In 2005, we had 15 million page hits, from 3 million different
visitors. Just on the U.S. version of the site, we have had a million visitors to our page about 7He
Da Vinci Code" (opusdei.org). In addition to a new design and site structure, Opus Dei also
developed a "Press Room" section that lists contact information for their worldwide press offices
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***If YOU wish to send me a pnvate mall, kindly use the form below, or mail to 3PW at
Figure 4-2. Blog of Opus Dei Priest Fr. John Wauck
and offers backgrounderss, press releases and audiovisual materials" and opportunities to arrange
Opus Dei presentations at parishes, clubs and associations (opusdei.org). Not only does the site
look extremely professional, but it' s also accomplishing an important goal in creating a good
impression in the minds of casual Web surfers driven to site because of 7he Da Vinci Code.
Looking beyond their own Web site, Opus Dei has also made other allies in the online
world. The group worked together with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to
create a new Web site "to refute the book' s claims about the divinity and marriage of Jesus"
(Dooley, 2006). Aptly named j esusdecoded.com, the site looks a bit like Sony' s official site for
the movie with its Flash-enabled display and somber music playing softly in the background. In
addition to that proj ect, Opus Dei is promoting a blog by a member priest in Rome called
davincicode-opusdei.com (Figure 4-2). Oddly enough, the site' s owner Fr. John Paul Wauck is
actually the brother-in-law of ex-FBI agent Robert Hanssen.
Bonnie' s youngest brother, John Paul, has long been one of the family' s more outspoken
members. Wauck relatives j oke that he applied for Harvard several times before finally
being admitted. Why he chose such a liberal bastion of learning to matriculate is puzzling,
since his first job after graduating from Harvard in 1985 was to edit the antiabortion
magazine Human Life Review (Havill, 2001, 44).
Needless to say that Wauck makes no mention of his connection to Hanssen on his blog, but does
corroborate the information about Harvard and Human Life Review. As evidenced in the textual
analysis of broadcast news media, Fr. Wauck received a lot of media attention and gave several
interviews to maj or outlets including ABC and CBS about his views on 7He Da Vinci Code
crisis. He also showed a sense of humor in his interviews and was quoted in three different ABC
stories as saying, "If you're looking for facts, you'd be better off watching Monty Python and the
Holy Grail," which refers to the lack of concrete historical evidence presented in 7He Da Vinci
Moving into the medium of print, Opus Dei released a new edition of St. Josemaria
Escriva's 7He Way, a collection of points of prayer by its founder, which was published 10 days
before 7He Da Vinci Code's May 19th release. Ironically, the book was from Doubleday (a
subsidiary of Random House), the same publisher that put 7He Da Vinci Code into print. This
effort attempted to reach the millions of readers of 7He Da Vinci Code by offering them one of
Opus Dei's most treasured and beloved texts. The group also produced a pamphlet entitled
"Seeking Holiness in Daily Life" which they placed in a box (Figure 4-3) at the front door of
their New York headquarters under a sign addressed to "Fans of 7He Da Vinci Code" (Eisenberg,
2006). "The box cost $10, but pictures of it have been reproduced in more than 100 newspapers
and filmed by film crews from around the world" (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006). Opus Dei
was quite pleased with the results of its "low-cost information resource."
Figure 4-3. Opus Dei' s brochure box for fans of 7He Da Vinci Code
Opus Dei did much to utilize TV airwaves as a "teachable moment" (Eisenberg, 2006).
Rev. Michael Barrett, an Opus Dei priest in Houston, "is one of a corps dispatched onto
television and radio airwaves as Opus Dei tests the adage that there is no such thing as bad
publicity," (Dooley, 2006). He along with others appeared on networks like CNN, ABC, CBS
and MSNBC to defend the organization against the claims made in 7He Da Vinci Code. The
textual analysis results of this study also show how often these Opus Dei sources appeared in
broadcast news coverage (Figure 4-7).
On April 19, 2006, one month before the film' s release, Opus Dei released a short 28-
minute film about their organization to a packed audience in New York City. The group said,
"this video is a way to show how Saint Josemaria and Opus Dei have had a positive effect on the
lives of thousands of people," (opusdei.org). The DVD can be ordered at no charge at the Web
site stjosemaria.org. In addition to an organizational video, the United States Conference of
Catholic Bi shops who sponsored j esusdecoded. com released an hour-long TV documentary in
May, "timed to coincide with the box office release of the "Code," refuting some of its more
sensational assertions, such as the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and sired a line of
progeny," (Eisenberg, 2006).
Shot on location in Israel, Turkey, and Italy, and making use of an international group of
scholars versed in art, history, and Scripture, Jesus Decoded offers a solid Catholic
response to "Da Vinci Code believers," concentrating especially on the first three centuries
of the development of the Church. The documentary will be distributed to NBC TV
stations for broadcast the weekend of May 20 and it will be available to purchase on DVD
and video at the same time (jesusdecoded.com).
By making a union with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Opus Dei was able to
benefit from a professional Web site and full-length documentary that strengthened its position
against 7He Da Vinci Code.
As Opus Dei's Web site states, "The publicity surrounding the book [7He Da Vinci Code]
and the film provide a good opportunity to explain what the Church as it truly is," (opusdei.org).
Opus Dei took advantage of that publicity by creating their own public relations whirlwind by
employing key messages in electronic media, print and television. In addition to free publicity,
Opus Dei also made an opportunity out of the controversy by telling the world about its mission
and core principles. One article noted, "It may be one of those odd twists of modern publicity
that 7He Da Vinci Code could end up bringing new members to Opus Dei. At least, we were told
more than once, it has people asking questions," (McFadden, 2006). Opus Dei priest Michael
Barrett also said, "In the past, for all the talking we did, nobody listened. H~e Da Vinci Code all
of a sudden made us famous, not in a great way. But it meant that we had to start talking and
now people listened," (Dooley, 2006). The Time article also pointed out that the movie could
cause a spike in Opus Dei's membership.
T he m ovi e will not deter O pu s' u sual con stitu en cy-con servati ve C atholi cs do n ot look to
Ron Howard for guidance. But by forcing Opus into greater transparency, the film could
aid it: if the organization is as harmless and "mature" as Bohlin contends, then such
exposure could bring in a bumper crop of devotees (Biema, 2006, 63).
Coupled with their concise and directed communications plan, Opus Dei can most likely expect
that outcome in their membership.
Opus Dei' s redesigned Web site, new blog, DVD, and re-release of 7He Waly were all
tactics to attract news attention to the organization' s activities and away from 7He Da Vinci Code
controversy. In the communications plan outline, Opus Dei notes that they "put greater effort
into the diffusion of different news items to help show the real Church, the real Opus Dei. It
seemed to us that this was a service to help those who were preparing a story or report about the
Church and Opus Dei" (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006). Opus Dei manufactured and
promoted two smaller news stories that emphasized the humanity and transparency of the
organization. The "Fans of 7He Da Vinci Code" brochure box they placed outside their New
York Headquarters not only drew considerable media attention, but also showed Opus Dei as an
organization willing to open its front doors and share its message to anyone interested. They
allowed reporters access to The Murray Hill Place Building in New York City and "j ournali sts
joke that they have not found the 'torture chambers' mentioned in the book" (Carroggio,
Finnerty & Mora, 2006). This image directly opposes Opus Dei's reputation as an inaccessible,
secretive religious sect.
Opus Dei also found a light-hearted way to counter the negative image of Brown' s
fanatical character Silas. The organization actually located an ordinary, spiritually devoted man
named Silas within its membership and profiled him and his family on its Web site and in the
media. "Silas Agbim is not a murderous albino monk, but a stockbroker from Biafra (Nigeria)
who lives in Brooklyn with his wife Ngozi" (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006). The press
quickly picked up on the story, reporting it in 7He New York Times, Time, CNN, CBS, ABC, and
international media. Respected Opus Dei researcher John Allen summed up the organization' s
recent communications efforts well in saying:
In terms of the way they now package themselves, [Opus Dei] has become a very
professionally run operation. It's evident that the media is very important to them and they
see the movie as the next big event. They're currently trying to get on top of it. The trick
for Opus Dei, of course, is to walk a fine line proj ecting a positive image without
promoting the film (Watkins, 2006).
Relation to crisis theory
RQ2: Where does crisis communications theory apply to Opus Dei 's public relations
Opus Dei has referred to its situation with 7he Da Vinci Code as "a case of a
communications crisis, although a particular kind of crisis" (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006).
So what type of crisis did Opus Dei believe they were dealing with? As mentioned in the
literature review, Coombs (1999) and other public relations researchers created a list of typical
crises that include: natural disasters, malevolence, technical breakdowns, human breakdowns,
challenges, megadamage, organizational misdeeds, workplace violence and rumors. Of particular
importance to the Opus Dei case is the rumor classification defined as: "when false information
is spread about an organization or its products. The false information hurts the organization' s
reputation by putting the organization in an unfavorable light" (pg. 61). Opus Dei's already
unstable reputation was threatened by the rumors purported in 7he Da Vinci Code, a fiction
novel many Christians and non-Christians accepted as truth.
Phase A the inactive phase
To effectively deal with any crisis, an organization needs to participate in crisis
management and develop a crisis management plan (CMP) (Coombs, 1999). Whether Opus Dei
had a CMP in place before 7he Da Vinci Code crisis is unclear, but their actions immediately
following the crisis indicate that they solidified a concrete plan during their communications
meeting in Rome. Opus Dei decided upon "promoting a kind of response before its time. In other
words, instead of avoiding crisis we have tried to bring it forward, to anticipate it" (Carroggio,
Finnerty & Mora, 2006). When 7He Da Vinci Code hit bookstores in 2003, Opus Dei was
unaware of its existence until only weeks before its release. Opus Dei's initial strategy of silence
towards the novel was perhaps due to lack of preparedness and expert communications
consultation. They underestimated the book' s selling power and hold the story would have on its
millions of readers.
In addition, since Opus Dei is an organization within the Catholic Church, they followed
the actions and Church' s initial reaction to 7He Da Vinci Code--silence. Opus Dei called this
period Phase A in its communications plan. A more in-depth explanation as to why Opus Dei
chose this initial strategy is found in the "In-Depth Interviews" section. Coombs (1999) notes
that "The use of silence reflects uncertainty and passivity by the organization. Passiveness is the
exact opposite perception an organization should be attempting to create" (pg. 1 15). Proper
preparation for a crisis situation involves "diagnosing crisis vulnerabilities, selecting and training
the crisis management team and spokespersons, creating the crisis portfolio, and refining the
crisis communication system" (pg. 4).
However, Opus Dei needed to consider its relationship with its primary stakeholder, the
Catholic Church, in all of its crisis strategies. Coombs (1999) underlines the importance of
building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders and points out that "failure to maintain
a continuing interaction with a primary stakeholder could result in the failure of the
organization" (pg. 20). Like any other large company, the Catholic Church has what Coombs
(1999) calls an "institutional memory," or how an organization has responded in the past to
crises. Traditionally, the Catholic Church and other religious organizations do not employ an
aggressive approach to crisis situations. An example of this strategy can be seen in the recent
Catholic priest abuse scandals in Boston. In Silencing the Lambs: 7He Catholic Church 's
Response to the 2002 SexualAbuse Scandal, Dixon (2004) argues that religious organizations
face unique challenges in crisis situations.
However, an inherent bias toward the secular in these analy ses ignore s the unique
constraints and obj ectives of an ecclesiastical organization' s response to crisis, which
seldom considers fiduciary obj ectives as the primary motive for response. Moreover, while
the crisis of secular organizations may affect a large number of constituencies' lives, the
range of impact is negligible when compared to the reach of the denominational influence
of the Catholic Church (pg. 65).
While Opus Dei is an independent organization within the Catholic Church, it still maintains a
vital relationship with the Church and is thereby influenced by the institution' s history and
Phase B the active phase
When word of a maj or motion picture adaptation of 7He Da Vinci Code reached Opus Dei,
they adopted a completely different crisis communications strategy from their earlier approach.
The film was a future event, which we learned about when it was publicized that Sony
Pictures had bought the rights of the novel. Therefore we could be proactive; we did not
wish to wait passively, and we decided to take the initiative (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora,
Opus Dei realized that a quick response was now necessary in order to successfully create a
strong foundation for effective crisis management and "to get the organization' s definition of the
crisis--its side of the story--into the media and out to the stakeholders" (Coombs, 1999, 1 15).
Kimmel (2004) also suggests that an organization utilize an informational campaign when facing
a false rumor that lacks credibility. Opus Dei named this period of its communications campaign
Coombs (1999) establishes that "believability is essential" when dealing with rumors.
Opus Dei's history with the media and rumors about its organizational activities as outlined
earlier did not set a good precedent for 7He Da Vinci Code crisis. Critics of the Catholic group
were more susceptible to believe the claims set forth in the novel because of the organization' s
checkered past. Coombs (1999) explains why an organization' s credibility is vital when dealing
with a rumor crisis.
Defusing a rumor requires that the organization be perceived as a credible channel of
information--the stakeholders must believe the organization is a source of accurate
information. The organization must be more credible than the rumor (pg. 49).
However, Opus Dei' s credibility might have not been the only factor working against them.
Fearn-Banks (1996) notes that "rumors are also spread because people distrust the
'establi shment' -organizations, governments, and big corporations" (pg. 3 7). Perhaps our
culture' s current dissatisfaction with religion and the Catholic Church' s recent priest abuse
scandals have added to the overall level of distrust and made this particular crisis even more
difficult to manage.
Fearn-Banks (1996) outlines several different types of rumors including: intentional rumor,
premature-fact rumor, malicious rumor, outrageous rumor, nearly true rumor and birthday rumor.
Of all the types, the nearly true and birthday rumor classifications best describe Opus Dei' s
rumor crisis. "The nearly true rumor is so named because it is partly true. People hear it, attach
credibility to a part of the story, then draw a conclusion that the rumor must be entirely true" (pg.
38). For example, the depiction of Opus Dei's practice of corporal mortification in 7He Da Vinci
Code as a gruesome, bloody, incredibly painful experience is not true. However, Opus Dei does
practice a much less intense form of corporal mortification--which then makes the rumor nearly
true. Besides its controversial past, validity was attributed to Opus Dei's rumors through Dan
Brown' s opening disclaimer to 7He Da Vinci Code reminding readers of the organization' s
alleged misdeeds. The continued repetition and presence of allegations of Opus Dei' s
brainwashing, corporal mortification and cult-like behavior have also made this a birthday
rumor, named for its repeated emergence over time, as regular as birthdays (Fearn-Banks, 1996).
Once a negative rumor is circulated to stakeholders and media, there are several steps an
organization should consider following in order to keep reputational damage to a minimum.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice is for an organization to establish an open line of
communication with its stakeholders. "Disseminate to publics complete, accurate information
that is contradictory to the message of the rumor. Do not mention the rumor itself. You do not
want to advance its circulation" (Fearn-Banks, 1996, 39). Kimmel (2004) also underscores the
importance of providing accurate information to stakeholders when dealing with a rumor crisis.
Opus Dei provided its members with a point-by-point rebuttal of 7He Da Vinci Code 's false
claims in a statement on its Web site. The organization also took every available opportunity to
promote their points in media discourse.
Fearn-Banks (1996) suggests to "get an outside expert on the subj ect to discredit the
rumor" in order to be more believable (pg. 39). Established Vatican correspondent for the
National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican analyst for CNN and NPR, John L. Allen, Jr. was just
the expert Opus Dei needed. During 7He Da Vinci Code crisis, Allen approached Opus Dei with
a proposal for a book to show the real side of Opus Dei, to which they readily agreed and
"I believe their calculation was that even an obj ective book that gives voice to criticisms of
the group would be preferable to the mythology and prejudice that so often clouds public
discussion. Despite the polarizing nature of discussion about Opus Dei, I hope we can all
agree that a discussion rooted in reality is more likely to be productive" (Allen, 2005, 9-
As evidenced in the textual analysis research, Allen' s book received plenty of media coverage
during Opus Dei' s crisis. He participated in several interviews in which he countered rumors
about Opus Dei with research from his book. This outside expert certainly gave more credibility
to Opus Dei when they needed it the most.
Almost as important as Opus Dei's relationship with its stakeholders was its relationship
with the media. Coombs (1999) recommends that an organization maintain an environment of
openness during its initial crisis response. "Availability to media, willingness to disclose
information and honesty" are all traits of an open organization (pg. 1 17). In their
communications plan outline, Opus Dei noted the importance of "treating the media as an ally"
(Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006). They called for "open conversations with j journalists" and
"gave priority to responding to all requests from j ournalists" (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora,
2006). The strategy to foster a mutually-beneficial relationship with media gave Opus Dei some
control over their crisis. They were able to portray an open, positive image amongst media and
effectively made them allies, not enemies. "From this position it is possible to be listened to and
understood, especially by the media, which in this kind of situation are not adversaries, because
they understand that the Church is not a threat but a victim" (Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006).
In its overall strategy, Opus Dei chose not to attack, but rather inform. As mentioned in the
literature review, Coombs (1999) developed a continuum (Figure 2-1) for matching crises and
communications strategies. While the "attack-the-accuser" strategy might seem the most obvious
choice for Opus Dei, they decided to respectfully refute their accuser instead. As mentioned
earlier, Opus Dei's relationship with its primary stakeholder, the Catholic Church, affected its
crisis strategy selection. Coombs (1999) stresses that "the information needs of the stakeholders
must be met prior to the use of reputational management efforts" (pg. 128). In other words, Opus
Dei needed to first consider the Catholic Church before deciding on a maj or communications
strategy. "We have tried always to maintain a style and tone of respect. This means never
employing aggressive language, no attacks or threats, and never judging the intention of others"
(Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006). This Christian-like response, typical to religious
organizations, to a damaging crisis put Opus Dei on the moral high ground, creating a more
positive image of the group in the media and among its stakeholders.
Analysis of Broadcast Media
For the textual analysis of broadcast news coverage, transcripts were collected over the
three-year period of Opus Dei' s crisis with 7He Da Vinci Code beginning in 2003 and ending in
2006. Figure 4-4 shows the frequency of coverage over this time period. The months closest to
7He Da Yinci Code film' s release, April and May 2006, were also the months that Opus Dei
experienced the most media coverage. Figure 4-5 denotes the number of stories each of the maj or
news networks aired during this time period. CNN featured the most stories about Opus Dei and
7He Da Yinci Code. Additionally, Figure 4-6 shows a complete picture of the broadcast news
media coverage in summarizing the number of promos/short mentions, repeats and stories each
of the six networks aired during the crisis. CNN was also the forerunner in this categorization,
while ABC and MSNBC followed.
Figure 4-4. Frequency of broadcast media coverage
ABC CBS NBC MSNBC CNN FOX
Figure 4-6. Frequency of total instances of coverage by network
RQ3: How did broadcast news mediafr~amne Opus Dei 's crisis nI ithr 7Je Da Vinci Code?
After analyzing the total sample of broadcast news media coverage, three major frames
were identified and later defined in the code book. Each of these three frames were found in all
instances of the sample, which was comprised of stories from ABC, CB S, NBC, MSNBC and
CNN. The FOX News Network did not air any relevant stories during the time period of the
crisis. Table 4-2 shows how frequently each frame appeared in the sample of stories (n=40).
ABC CBS NBC MSNBC CNN FOX
Figure 4-5. Frequency of stories by network
Table 4-2. Frequency of frames in stories
Frame Primary Secondary
Fact vs. Fiction 67.5% (n=27) 20.0% (n=2)
War on Christianity 20.0% (n=8) 20.0% (n=2)
Opportunity 12.5% (n=5) 60.0% (n=6)
Table 4-3. Frequency of "fact vs. fiction" frame by network
Network Primary Secondary
ABC 75.0% (n=6) 33.3% (n=1)
CBS 60.0% (n=3) ---
NBC 44.4% (n=4) ---
CNN 75.0% (n=9) 33.3% (n=1)
MSNBC 83.0% (n=5) ---
Fact vs. fiction frame
The "fact vs. fiction" frame was defined by words and phrases such as fact, fiction, myth,
reality, true and false. Stories employing this frame often presented the common controversies
and rumors about Opus Dei and then countered them with factual information given by Opus Dei
staff, members or other outside experts. This frame greatly played to Opus Dei's informational
public relations campaign because it allowed them to present their side of the story to the media
while looking credible against the rumors purported in 7Jhe Da Vinci Code. The "fact vs. fiction"
frame appeared the most frequently in broadcast news media coverage and was the primary
frame for 67.5% of the 40 stories featured on the five maj or networks. In the 10 stories that had
secondary frames, the "fact vs. fiction" frame accounted for 20% of the total. When each
individual network was analyzed for the presence of the "fact vs. fiction" frame (Table 4-3), it
was determined that MSNBC used this frame the most often, utilizing it in 83% of its stories,
while ABC and CNN employed it in 75% of its stories.
Some examples of this frame include: "We're going to find out what' s fact and what' s
fiction" and "There is the Opus Dei of myth... then there' s the Opus Dei of reality" (Hammer,
2006, May 22; Cooper, 2006, May 26). Brian Finnerty, director of communications for Opus Dei
in the United States, imparted the embodiment of the "fact vs. fiction" frame in one of his
interviews with CNN.
The fictional Opus Dei is about a monk running around killing people in search of the
Holy Grail. The real Opus Dei is ordinary people trying to come closer to God in their
work and everyday lives (Whitfield, 2006, April 22).
This frame served as the central backdrop for Opus Dei's conflict with 7hze Da Vinci Code. The
organization was plagued by nearly-true rumors that were exacerbated by this cultural
phenomenon, making it difficult for anyone unfamiliar with the organization to discern the fact
from the fiction.
War on Christianity frame
The "war on Christianity" frame was defined by words and phrases such as call to action,
boycott, trashing religion, battle, defend and culture war. Stories employing this frame often
feature experts from the Christian Church and refer to the Vatican' s discontent with 7Jhe Da
Vinci Code. Another topic often covered in this frame is modern culture' s discontent with
religious authority and institutions. The "war on Christianity" frame was the second most utilized
frame in the broadcast news coverage and was found in 20% of the stories. As a secondary
frame, it appeared in 20% of the stories. When each individual network was analyzed for the
presence of the "war on Christianity" frame (Table 4-4), it was found that NBC utilized this
frame the most often, while CB S, CNN, and MSNBC followed.
Table 4-4. Frequency of "war on Christianity" frame by network
Network Primary Secondary
ABC --- ---
CB S 20.0% (n= 1 ---
NBC 44.4% (n=4) 100.0% (n=1)
CNN 16.7% (n=2) 33.3% (n=1)
MSNB C 16.7% (n=1) ---
Some examples of this frame include: "This is really a call to action for Christians to learn
more about Christianity" and "Coming up, why are so many pastors convinced that this is part of
an ongoing war against Christianity?" (Sodos, 2006, February 8; Zahn, 2006; May 19). One
particularly good example of this frame appeared in a CNN interview with Father David
O'Connell, president of the Catholic University of America. "From my vantage point, you know,
as you're going into battle, you've got to know who the enemy is and you've got to develop a
strategy to confront it" (Blitzer, 2006, May 18). While Father O'Connell was referring to 7He Da
Vinci Code's attack on Catholicism and the foundation of Christianity, this sentiment could also
describe Opus Dei' s crisis and the importance of a solid communications plan. The "war on
Christianity" frame looked at the larger issues of this crisis, making the Catholic Church and 7He
Da Vinci Code the primary opponents in this culture war.
The "opportunity" frame was defined by words and phrases such as making lemonade out
of lemons, opportunity, new-found publicity, opening doors and increased interest. Stories
employing this frame often focus on how the crisis is actually an opportunity for Opus Dei to
spread its message and mission across the world and set false information straight. This frame
might have first appeared in Time's story about how Opus Dei named their communications
campaign "Proj ect Lemonade." The "opportunity" frame appeared the least frequently in
broadcast news coverage and was found in 12.5% of the stories. As a secondary frame however,
the "opportunity" frame appeared in 60% of the sample. When each individual network was
analyzed for the "opportunity" frame (Table 4-5), it was found that ABC utilized this frame the
most often, followed by CB S, NBC and CNN.
Table 4-5. Frequency of "opportunity" frame by network
Network Primary Secondary
ABC 25.0% (n=2) 66.7% (n=2)
CBS 20.0% (n=1) 100.0% (n=1)
NBC 11.1% (n=1)--
CNN 8.3% (n=1) 33.3% (n=1)
MSNBC 1--- 100.0% (n=2)
Some examples of this frame include: "What we are doing is taking advantage of every
media opportunity that we can get to talk about what the real Opus Dei is" and "they're trying
now to make lemonade out of the lemons hurled at them by that book" (Sodos, 2006, February 8;
Sawyer, 2006, April 18). A CBS story on the Early Show used the "opportunity" frame to
explain how both sides of the Opus Dei vs. The Da Vinci Code crisis were benefitting from the
But the controversy over the movie has generated the kind of publicity money can't buy.
Oddly, all parties to the argument now embrace it as a way of either selling tickets or
putting their viewpoint across (Phillips, 2006, May 17).
One of the biggest concerns about Opus Dei's public relations campaign against 7he Da Vinci
Code was that their communications efforts would only serve to bolster book sales and movie
tickets. However, Opus Dei's prime obj ective was to not urge the public to boycott the film or
movie, but rather provide true and accurate information about itself through the media. As
mentioned in this CB S story, an unavoidable byproduct of this crisis was that both sides received
large amounts of publicity that drew more attention to each side.
Opus Dei Messaging
RQ4: How much Opus Dei messaging was present in broadcast news media coverage ?
The textual analysis of broadcast news coverage also analyzed each story' s sources and
categorized them into Opus Dei representatives, Christian Church representatives, and other
outside experts. Figure 4-7 depicts the number of different individuals quoted in the story
sample. It is important to note that the other outside experts category might have been larger than
others due to MSNBC' s frequent use of panel discussions that feature 3 -4 participants that speak
on a wide variety of topics. The other outside experts category also included Opus Dei's
opposition--former members or cult experts. Figure 4-8 shows that the stories analyzed featured
a higher proportion of Opus Dei members than their opposition. Even when the opposition was
quoted in a story, it was almost done disparagingly. In an interview with Chris Matthews of
MSNBC, former Opus Dei member Tammy DiNicola and mother Dianne DiNicola presented
their take on Opus Dei as a controlling, abusive cult-like organization.
Opus Dei Church Other
Figure 4-7. Number of individuals quoted in stories
Opus Dei Former Other
Members Members Op~posit~ion
Figure 4-8. Number of Opus Dei sources vs. opposition sources
Another former member was also interviewed and gave a positive review of Opus Dei. Matthews
repeatedly questioned this former member, asking if he believed the DiNicola' s accounts. "No,
do you believe the DiNicola' s, both of them, Dianne and Tammy? Do you believe what they're
saying? Do you think they're being dishonest? Do you believe that they're giving an accurate
portrayal of their experiences with Opus Dei?" (Matthews, 2006, June 5). It seemed as if
Matthews, a confessed Catholic himself, was trying to urge this former member into calling out
the DiNicola' s purported lies. However, it is apparent through the sources quoted in the story
sample that Opus Dei had plenty of opportunities to get its message out.
The textual analysis coded for the presence of key Opus Dei messaging. As outlined earlier
in the methodology, this messaging included stories such as Opus Dei' s real Silas, the open letter
to Sony, ordinary Christian members, Father Wauck' s blog, etc. Opus Dei focused on these
messages and stories in its informational campaign and successfully inserted them into broadcast
news coverage. Table 4-6 shows how often each network featured Opus Dei messaging in its
stories and the average number of messages per story. CNN featured the most messaging, while
ABC and MSNBC were close in their coverage.
Table 4-6. Amount of stories featuring Opus Dei messaging
Percentage of Stories with Opus Dei Messaging by Network
ABC CBS NBC MSNB C CNN FOX
87.5% 60.0% 55.6% 83.3% 91.7% --
Average Number of Opus Dei Messages per Story by Network
ABC CBS NBC MSNB C CNN FOX
3.5 2.3 1.4 2.2 2.5--
Table 4-7. Amount of stories featuring and correcting Opus Dei controversies
Percentage of Stories with Common Opus Dei Controversies
ABC CBS NBC MSNB C CNN FOX
100.0% 80.0% 55.6% 100.0% 100.0% --
Percentage of Stories in which Controversies are Corrected
ABC CBS NBC MSNB C CNN FOX
75.0% 75.0% 60.0% 83.3% 91.7%--
The textual analysis also coded for stories featuring common Opus Dei controversies and
whether or not these controversies were corrected. As outlined in the introduction, these
controversies included gruesome corporal mortification, cult-like behavior, salary control,
power-hungry, questionable recruiting techniques, etc. Table 4 -7 shows that the maj ority of
stories in the sample featured these controversies, with NBC having the lowest percentage.
However, while these harmful rumors were repeated, the maj ority of all stories allowed Opus
Dei members or other sources to correct the controversies, with CNN and MSNBC at the highest
percentage. These statistics support the fact that Opus Dei successfully controlled the crisis in
broadcast media coverage by employing key stories and messaging through its many utilized
sources and by refuting commonly-held controversies about its organization.
RQ5: What were the \roenlgths\ and weaknesses of Opus Dei 's public relations campaign?
After completing the textual analysis of web, print, and broadcast media, two in-depth
interviews with Opus Dei' s communications staff completed this study of Opus Dei's public
relations campaign against 7he Da Vinci Code. As the director of Opus Dei's communications in
the United States and a numerary member of the organization, Brian Finnerty was very much
involved in Opus Dei' s public relations campaign from its earliest stages. Marie T. Oates, also a
numerary member of Opus Dei, provided Opus Dei members with extensive media training
during 7He Da Vinci Code crisis. She is the principal of the Boston PR Group, Inc., a public
relations firm specializing in medical, educational and non-profit work in Boston and New York.
Maj or strengths and weaknesses of Opus Dei's public relations campaign appeared in the
results from the in-depth interviews and crisis analysis research. One of the biggest weaknesses
in Opus Dei' s campaign was its initial response to the crisis and lack of preparedness. Brian
Finnerty acknowledged the presence of two distinct phases during the course of the campaign--
the initial Phase A in which Opus Dei was relatively silent, only responding to media requests
and Phase B in which Opus Dei learned about 7He Da Vinci Code movie and took immediate
action through coordinated communications efforts.
Finnerty noted that Opus Dei attempted to talk to other Catholic media and organizations
during Phase A in an effort to "sound the alarm," and was surprised that "Catholic leaders took a
very long time to respond to the media." Additionally, he admitted that no one at his organization
anticipated the staying power of the book and initially dismissed it. However at this stage,
Finnerty said that Opus Dei "wanted to avoid giving the book more publicity than it deserved"
and more importantly, Opus Dei didn't want to be the story. "If other Catholic leaders would
have responded earlier, that would have allowed us to have a more proactive role earlier on...but
Catholic bishops don't want to be the cultural warriors in the United States." As an organization
within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei follows the lead of the Church. Finnerty established that
Opus Dei would wait until it had the full support of the Catholic Church before launching a
maj or public communications campaign. "If we had just come out blazing early on--it would
have been like there's that Catholic organization trying to take on this book," said Finnerty. Opus
Dei wanted to avoid becoming the central figure of this crisis, as they believed the book was
threatening to the foundations of Catholicism, not just their organization.
As mentioned earlier, Opus Dei's lack of a crisis management plan (CMP) was also a
weakness during its situation with 7He Da Vinci Code. While the organization had dealt with its
share of controversy in the past, it had never experienced the huge amount of publicity and
attention it received from this crisis. In the in-depth interviews, Marie Oates and Brian Finnerty
both confirmed that Opus Dei had no formal crisis plan in place prior to the situation with 7He
Da Vinci Code. However, Opus Dei turned this potentially devastating weakness into a strength
by looking internally to its membership and Catholic allies for the support it needed to carry
itself through their campaign.
With 87,000 members and a direct link to one of the largest religious institutions in the
world, Opus Dei certainly had an incredible number of devout allies to stand beside them during
their crisis with 7He Da Vinci Code Finnerty noted the importance of "working closely with the
United Conference of Catholic Bi shops" to combat the "unfair treatment of Chri stianity and the
Catholic Church." As identified in the crisis analysis, the United Conference of Catholic Bishops
created a Web site and documentary in support of Opus Dei. Opus Dei successfully mobilized
their "network of volunteers around the country" to appear in the media as the real voice behind
the organization. Oates confirmed that she led several media training sessions in order to prepare
members for questions about the organization' s beliefs and practices. She also reinforced Opus
Dei's key messages that depicted the group as an ordinary, lay organization whose members look
for holiness in everyday life. The textual analysis of broadcast news coverage revealed 25
different Opus Dei members and staff were quoted in maj or network stories. This wide
representation of the organization' s membership gave the organization credibility against the
rumors in 7He Da Vinci Code. By rallying its members to stand up to the false portrayal of their
organization, Opus Dei strengthened its relationship with its primary stakeholders. As Finnerty
explained, "Internally, it enabled people to laugh off the whole thing [the crisis]. This wasn't
going to be the tidal wave that knocked us over."
In addition to making its internal publics partners in the fight against 7He Da Vinci Code,
Opus Dei also made the media an ally. Oates and Finnerty both established Opus Dei's strategy
of being completely available to the media for any interviews or inquiries during the course of
the crisis. Finnerty said that he "never refused to speak to a journalist who wanted to talk to me"
and made it a priority to answer all media inquiries as soon as possible. This display of openness
and accessibility directly contrasted with the organization' s image of being a secretive,
manipulative cult. Additionally, he added that one of the greatest lessons he learned from the
cri si s was "to think in terms of the story." Finnerty acknowledged that one of Opus Dei' s
strategies was to "feed the media material and think like a reporter." He posed the question,
"How can I possibly give the media what they need and still get what I want?" Opus Dei wanted
to make its dealings with the media mutually beneficial, giving them exclusive access to their
headquarters and members while getting the opportunity to tell their side of the story on their
own terms. Opus Dei suggested newsworthy, catchy stories to the media including their real
Silas and the brochure box addressed to "The Fans of 7He Da Vinci Code." These stories were
covered in many news outlets, indicating that Opus Dei was successful in making the media its
Summary of Opus Dei's Campaign
When 7He Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown first hit bookshelves in 2003, a small, lay
Catholic organization called Opus Dei had no idea what the next three years would bring. The
best-selling, chart-topping fiction book cast Opus Dei as the central villain in its murder mystery
that called the foundations of Christianity into question. Underestimating the selling power of the
novel and its growth into a pop culture phenomenon, Opus Dei chose to initially keep quiet and
not attack Brown for what he claimed to be true about Opus Dei: that it was a secretive,
manipulative organization that would stop at nothing, even murder, to protect the foundations of
Catholicism. While Opus Dei remained virtually silent, 7He Da Vinci Code found its way into
the hands of over 60 million readers (Carr, 2006). Its extreme popularity garnered the attention
of several maj or film studios, including Sony Pictures Entertainment.
When news reached Opus Dei that 7He Da Vinci Code would be made into a maj or motion
picture starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard, the organization decided to reevaluate
its communications strategy. Opus Dei mounted a full public relations campaign in response to
7He Da Vinci Code book and film. However, instead of attacking Brown and Sony Pictures,
Opus Dei chose to inform the public about "The Real Opus Dei." They rallied their members and
other Catholic organizations across the world in an effort to show that they were nothing like the
Opus Dei portrayed in 7He Da Vinci Code. Opus Dei also worked to make the media an ally
during its crisis, allowing unprecedented access to its headquarters, centers, and members. The
organization suggested key stories and messaging to j ournali sts in an effort to define its position.
When the movie was released on May 19, 2006 it received mediocre reviews but scored big in
the box office, grossing over $758 million worldwide (Variety.com). However, despite the
incredible popularity of the book and movie, Opus Dei' s informational campaign was a success
according to its communications staff. The organization achieved its main obj ective of
establishing "an information effort to show that the real Opus Dei had nothing in common with
the Opus Dei presented in the book: no monks, no murders, no masochism, no misogyny"
(Carroggio, Finnerty & Mora, 2006).
Drawing on crisis communications theory from Coombs (1999) and Fearn-Banks (1996),
Opus Dei's situation with 7He Da Vinci Code was identified as a rumor crisis. According to
Coombs (1999), "believability is essential" when dealing with rumors because the public must
trust the organization in order to accept their side of the story. Rumors about Opus Dei did not
first surface in 7He Da Vinci Code--the organization had a history filled with controversy.
Fearn-Banks (1996) classified several rumor types including the nearly-true rumor and the
birthday rumor-both of which afflicted Opus Dei. Since controversies surrounding the
organization had appeared in the past, the public may have attached more credibility to the
rumors purported in 7He Da Vinci Code--identifying them as nearly-true. Additionally, because
these rumors had been repeated over and over again during Opus Dei's history, they were
considered to be birthday rumors, as they were as regular as birthdays.
Coombs (1999), Fearn-Banks (1996) and Kimmel (2004) suggest several crisis
management strategies for dealing with rumor. Opus Dei employed many of these strategies over
the course of its crisis with 7He Da Vinci Code. The organization established a two-way line of
communication with its stakeholders and kept them informed of any news or developments via
its organizational Web site, www.opusdei.org. Opus Dei's Web site would also turn out to be a
maj or resource for journalists and other interested parties who were curious about the
organization from their exposure to 7He Da Vinci Code. The organization also took advantage of
the talents of outside expert John Allen, Jr., a respected CNN Analyst and author. Allen' s book
titled Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the M~yths and Reality of the M~ost Controversial
Force in the Catholic Church (2005) became the authoritative text on the organization and
received praise and recognition in the media. As mentioned earlier, Opus Dei made the media an
ally, a key strategy Coombs (1999) suggests an organization should follow. They gave priority to
every media inquiry and opened their doors for the first time to cameras and on-site interviews.
The organization did everything it could to portray an open, transparent image on its new-found
In addition to crisis communications theory, it is important to consider what equates to
success in public relations when evaluating the effectiveness of Opus Dei' s campaign against
7Jhe Da Vinci Code. While there are many schools of thought on public relations evaluation, the
researcher chose Hon' s (1998, 1999) work for its relevance to this case. In Demonstrating
Effectiveness in Public Relations: Goals, Objectives and Evaluation, Hon (1998) establishes that
effective public relations occurs when an organization achieves its established communications
goals through its communications activities in a cost-efficient manner. Opus Dei media
professional Marie T. Oates described Opus Dei' s campaign as "a grassroots media campaign
carried out on a shoe string budget." She also notes that Opus Dei was "able to work with what
little resources we had available, and then made the most of the opportunities that came our way
or which we could create." Opus Dei' s focus on opportunity and making the best out of a bad
situation was a guiding force in their public relations efforts and served as a foundation for their
goals and obj ectives. Hon (1998) notes that "achieving specific outcomes detailed in public
relations program obj ectives is the yardstick by which success must be measured" (p. 107).
While meeting goals is key, Hon (1999) points out that a truly effective public relations
campaign will not only achieve the communications obj ectives but also support the
organization' s mission. Based on the obj ectives as outlined by the organization in question and
their mission as a religious organization, Opus Dei experienced success in its informational
campaign against 7He Da Vinci Code.
Opus Dei' s streak of publicity gave the organization many opportunities to get its message
out to the public and, from their perspective, set the record straight. An analysis of broadcast
media coverage from ABC, CB S, NBC, FOX and MSNBC over the three-year period of the
crisis revealed three maj or frames. These frames played to Opus Dei's advantage when
considering their obj ectives, making them the victim of 7He Da Vinci Code crisis as seen in the
Fact vs. Fiction
The "fact vs. fiction" frame was the primary frame for 67.5% of the 40 original stories
featured on the five maj or networks. This frame put the Opus Dei' s version of the truth up
against the preexisting controversies and new myths set forth in 7Jhe Da Vinci Code. Stories with
the "fact vs. fiction" frame used words including: myth, reality, truth, false, fact, fiction and
rumor. Stories featuring this frame often gave Opus Dei a platform to correct the rumors from
7he Da Vinci Code and made a comparison of what was true and what was not. MSNBC utilized
this frame the most often as it was in 83% of its stories, while ABC and CNN used it in 75% of
its stories. Opus Dei encouraged the use of the "fact vs. fiction" frame repeatedly in their core
messaging, focusing on "the Real Opus Dei" and contrasting their image against the work of
fiction, 7He Da Vinci Code. Allen' s book called Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths
and Reality of the M~ost ControversialForce in the Catholic Church al so reinforced the fact vs.
fiction" frame with the comparison of commonly held myths about Opus Dei with his research
about the organization and in its title. The broadcast and cable media gave Opus Dei an
opportunity to fight back against the rumors in 7He Da Vinci Code by letting them tell their side
of the story through the "fact vs. fiction" frame.
War on Christianity
The "war on Christianity" frame was the primary frame in 20% of the story sample. Using
vocabulary such as battle, defend, rally the troops, fight and war, this frame depicted the battle
between Catholicism and a pop culture phenomenon. The "war on Christianity" frame focused
on how 7He Da Vinci Code 's allegations of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene and
fathering a child shook the foundations of Christianity. Although the book was marketed and
acknowledged as fiction, many readers believed the claims because ofBrown' s opening
disclaimer that all historical facts and events within the book were true. The Vatican publicly
denounced the book, saying that it had absolutely no basis in fact and that Christians should not
believe anything in it. The frame also put a spotlight on modern culture' s current discontent with
religious authorities and institutions (Freedom Forum, 1993). In light of the recent Catholic
priest abuse scandals and other embarrassments in the Church, society has become more critical
of religion. Sources from the Christian Church were often quoted in stories featuring this frame.
The "war on Christianity" frame could also apply to 7He Da Vinci Code's specific attack on
Opus Dei, but generally referred to the Catholic Church as a whole. When each network was
analyzed for the presence of this frame, it was determined that NBC used it as the primary frame
in 44.4% of its stories with CBS following at 20% and CNN and MSNBC at 16.7%.
The "opportunity" frame was the primary frame for 12.5% of the story sample (n=40) and
the secondary frame for 60% of the sample. ABC utilized the "opportunity" frame as a primary
frame in 25% of its stories with CB S following at 20%, NBC at 1 1.1%, and CNN at 8.3 %. As a
secondary frame, ABC featured the "opportunity" frame in 66.7% of its stories, CB S in 100%,
CNN at 33.3% and MSNBC at 100%. Stories featuring the "opportunity" frame often focused on
how Opus Dei's crisis with 7Jhe Da Yinci Code was actually an opportunity for the organization
to get its message out to the public on a stage that it never had before. This frame contained
words and phrases such as: making lemonade out of lemons, new-found publicity, opening
doors, opportunity, benefit and increased interest. Opus Dei certainly contributed to the creation
of this frame when they nicknamed their communications campaign "Project Lemonade." Stories
with the "opportunity" frame quoted several Opus Dei sources and presented a positive image of
the organization in that they were a small, often misunderstood religious group that made the
best out of a very difficult and potentially catastrophic situation.
Opus Dei presented its key messaging in media coverage in a variety of ways. When the
broadcast news stories' sources were analyzed and categorized into Opus Dei representatives,
Christian Church representatives, and other outside experts, it was found that Opus Dei had 25
unique sources quoted. Opus Dei' s opposition which included former members and cult experts,
only had six unique sources quoted. This disparity reflects how Opus Dei effectively mobilized
its members and staff to present their viewpoints and the beliefs of their organization.
Additionally, the analysis coded for the presence of key Opus Dei messaging and stories that
included: the real Opus Dei, the real Silas, the brochure box for Da Vinci fans, Father Wauck' s
blog and others. When each network was analyzed for the presence of Opus Dei messaging in its
stories, it was found that ABC had 87.5%, CBS 60%, NBC 55.6%, MSNBC 83.3% and CNN
91.7%. Based on the definition of effective public relations as outlined by Hon (1999), these
percentages attest to Opus Dei's success it getting their ideas and messages out to the media.
Additionally, all stories were coded for the presence of common Opus Dei controversies and
whether or not these controversies were corrected. The results showed that ABC's stories
corrected 75% of the controversies, CBS 75%, NBC 60%, MSNBC 83.3% and CNN 91.7%.
While rumors and common controversies about Opus Dei were repeated in media coverage, the
maj ority of stories corrected the rumors, allowing Opus Dei to get accurate information about its
organization out to the public--its core public relations strategy.
The textual analysis was strengthened with two in-depth interviews of Opus Dei' s
communications staff. When the organization' s media campaign was analyzed for maj or
strengths and weaknesses, the results could be tied back to prior research. For example, in the
textual analysis it was determined that Opus Dei' s initial strategy of silence was not a good one
when dealing with a rumor crisis. This was later identified as one of Opus Dei' s central
weaknesses because the initial response in a crisis is often the most important and creates the
first impression of the organization in the mind of the public (Coombs, 1999). The interviews
revealed that while Opus Dei underestimated the power of the book, they also did not act earlier
on because the Catholic Church was late in its response. This point reinforced Coombs' (1999)
theory about the importance of an organization' s relationship with its stakeholders in times of
crisis. Another weakness was Opus Dei's lack of preparedness and having no crisis management
plan (CMP). The importance ofa CMP was earlier identified in the textual analysis. Without a
formal strategy outlined before the crisis took place, Opus Dei was more vulnerable to the media
storm surrounding 7He Da Vinci Code and was unable to respond in a quick, unified manner to
However, the strengths in Opus Dei's public relations campaign against 7He Da Vinci
Code made up for its weaknesses. As suggested in the crisis communications theories of Coombs
(1999) and Fearn-Banks (1996), Opus Dei successfully made allies internally and externally.
Effective relationship building with key publics is an additional measure of successful public
relations efforts (Hon, 1999). With over 87,000 members across the world, the organization had
a built-in support system that could help carry it through the crisis. Opus Dei turned to its
membership for support and gave many members speaking opportunities in the media and kept
them updated on the campaign' s progress through its Web site. The organization also turned to
its Catholic allies, including the United Conference of Catholic Bishops, for guidance and
support. Opus Dei benefitted from a full-length documentary and several other Web sites and
online forums through its partnerships with other Catholic organizations.
Another key component of a successful public relations campaign is the promotion and
fostering of good media relations (Hon, 1999). Externally, Opus Dei did everything in its power
to make the media one of its allies. The interviews revealed that Opus Dei fed the media stories
and provided them with exclusive access to Opus Dei headquarters for the first time. Opus Dei's
communications staff wanted to create a mutually beneficial relationship with the media in order
to get their point across while allowing the media to be the first to access the organization. Opus
Dei also made every media inquiry a priority and never refused an interview. These strategies
certainly led to the success of Opus Dei's informational campaign against The Da Vinci Code.
Implications for Public Relations
This study of Opus Dei's public relations campaign against The Da Vinci Code shows how
a relatively unknown, miscast religious organization was able to utilize public relations practices
and crisis management strategies to fight off its false portrayal from a pop culture phenomenon.
In particular, the case shows the power of a nearly-true rumor and how difficult it is to combat
through a communications plan. However, this case also reveals a religious organization' s
unique advantage that many big corporations and publicly-owned companies don't have--a
unified internal public. Religious organizations should turn to their membership and other
religious allies in order to survive through a crisis. Yet, this unique advantage also comes with
unique challenges. A religious organization is also accountable to its internal publics and key
stakeholders, no matter how big or small. Hon (1999), Coombs (1999), and Fearn-Banks (1996)
all suggest for an organization to regularly engage in a two-way communication with these
groups and to take their expectations and needs into consideration when deciding on a crisis
Opus Dei' s crisis also shows how important it is for any organization, big or small, to have
a crisis management plan in place. While there was no way for this organization to predict the
hailstorm 7Jhe Da Vinci Code would bring, they would have been better served if their
communications staff had identified potential crises early on and assigned responsibilities to
ensure that when a crisis did occur, Opus Dei could respond in a quick, unified manner. Yet, by
making the media an ally, the organization succeeded in its informational campaign and set an
example for other non-profit and religious organizations to follow. In a study published by the
Freedom Forum (1993) on how the media and religious organizations can work together to
improve religion coverage, two main points reinforce Opus Dei' s effectiveness in fostering good
media relations. The study advi ses religious organizations to "learn the basics of media relations
and support efforts to work with the news media" and "make sure religious leaders are accessible
to the media for interviews, information and comments" (pg. 4). Whether facing a crisis or not,
religious organizations should strive to create long and lasting relationships with media to the
Limitations of Study and Recommendations for Future Research
In any framing analysis, the frames identified by the researcher might not be the same
frames identified by another researcher and frame definition can be subj ective. Another potential
limitation of this study could be the reliability of Opus Dei's organizational information.
Membership statistics, organizational structure, and other facts about Opus Dei are all reported
by the organization and cannot be verified by other outside sources since many of Opus Dei' s
records are not made available to the public.
This study could be expanded in several ways in future research. The final step in the
public relations process is evaluation and this campaign would certainly benefit from an in-depth
evaluation of its core tactics and strategies. Opus Dei's communications plan could be evaluated
through a quantitative survey of its membership measuring their recognition of key components
from the campaign. Additionally, interviews with members quoted in the broadcast media
coverage could add another layer of depth to the study. Understanding the viewpoint of the other
side of 7He Da Vinci Code crisis could also greatly inform this research. While they may be
difficult to get, interviews with Dan Brown and producers and staff at Sony Pictures
Entertainment could present a conflicting viewpoint that has been relatively unheard.
Another recent development also creates a perfect opportunity for future study. An article
from 7He Guardian reveals a possible proj ect Opus Dei might be involved in:
Now one of the world's most controversial spiritual organizations is poised to strike back,
using the same media weapons as its critics. A spokesman in Rome said yesterday that
Opus Dei was collaborating in the production of a full-length feature film on the life of its
founder, Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. The producers said they were hoping to
enlist Antonio Banderas and Robert De Niro for the leading roles (Hooper, 2007, February
A spokesperson from Opus Dei said that the organization would not be funding the film, but
would be consulting on the proj ect. If this movie does get made, it would be an interesting study
to compare its release to the release of 7He Da Vinci Code. Additionally, Opus Dei' s
communications efforts surrounding this future release could be analyzed and compared to their
efforts from 7He Da Vinci Code.
OPUS DEI' S COMMUNICATIONS PLAN
Marc Carroggio, Rome M~edia Relations
Brian Finnerty, U.S. Media Relations
Juan Manuel Mora, Rome Department of Communications, Opus Dei'
In the New York communications office of Opus Dei, we first learned about 7he Da Vinci Code
only weeks before the novel's publication, through an article in Publishers Weekly. Brian
Finnerty recalls alerting a colleague about the novel's extravagant premise: the Church has
always kept secret the existence of a line of descendents of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene,
and an Opus Dei albino monk runs around killing people in a search for the Holy Grail. The
colleague' s response was "Brian, don't worry, the novel sounds so silly that nobody will ever
That prediction, of course, did not turn out be tr-ue. Since its publication in 2003 by Doubleday,
7He Da Vinci Code has become one of the best-selling works of all time with its many million of
copies sold. An undoubted hit in terms of sales, although accompanied by negative literary
On 17 May the film will be launched in Cannes. Produced by and marketed by Sony Pictures, it
is being promoted with one of the biggest marketing budgets in the history of the silver screen:
40 million dollars just for the USA market, according to the "Wall Street Journal". In the cover
story that "Newsweek" devoted to the end of 2005, it was presented as the event of the year
Perhaps the fundamental characteristic of 7he Da Vinci Code is that it mixes fact and fiction in a
misleading manner. The novel begins with a "Fact" page that makes the false claim that "All
descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."
Christianity and the Catholic Church are falsely portrayed as a hoax invented by the fourth-
century Roman emperor Constantine. The novel also presents a bizarre caricature of the Catholi c
Church institution Opus Dei, complete with the character of Silas, the murderous albino monk.
However, as Amy Welborn has written, in reality 7he Da Vinci Code is a mess, a riot of
laughable errors and serious misstatements".
H~e Da Vinci Code phenomenon poses questions that go beyond the specific case, and which it
would be interesting to discuss in this seminar. What responsibilities does the entertainment
industry have to be sensitive and fair in the portrayal of different religious, ethnic and social
groups? And how can offended parties respond, defending their own rights, while respecting
freedom of expression and the freedom of the market-place?
* Paper presented on 27 April 2006, in the 5th Professional Seminar for Church Conununications Offices, which
took place in the University of the Holy Cross, in Rome. The definitive version will be published in the proceedings
of the seminar.
Catholics and other Christians have expressed their concerns about the novel in numerous
different ways. Some examples among many:
* Especially significant was the launching of the "Jesus Decoded" website, sponsored by the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with a documentary of the same
name. Other bishops' conferences have also launched clear responses to the book, e.g.
Mexico, Poland and Brazil.
* A coalition of Catholics in the U.S. has formed an initiative called "DaVinci Outreach"
(www.davincioutreach. com) which is also the source for the "The Da Vinci Deception", a
concise but excellent Q&A book.
* The DVC has also been the occasion for other serious books, such as Amy Welborn's "De-
Coding Da Vinci", and "The Da Vinci Hoax" by Carl Olson. The same could be said of
documentaries like, for example, "Solving the 2000 Year Old Mystery" by Grizzly Adams
Productions. Many books and essays have been published in other countries.
At the appropriate time it would be interesting to study all these responses from the
communications point of view. Here is a summary of the work of the Information Offices of
Opus Dei, above all in Rome and New York.
1. The novel:
We found the novel "in our hands" in early 2003, already published, without having heard before
of the writer Dan Brown. Our first response was to ignore the book to the extent possible,
responding to inquiries, but trying to avoid giving additional attention to it by over-reacting.
In September 2003, after receiving numerous requests for information, we posted a statement at
the website www.opusdei.org, stressing that the DVC is a fictional work and not a reliable
source. There we also collected other resource material, which was useful for answering the
many questions we were receiving.
From the beginning our attitude was to be helpful and open in providing information about Opus
Dei. It was in this phase, for instance, that a book dedicated entirely to Opus Dei was started, by
Vatican expert John L. Allen.
2. The film:
The film was a future event, which we learned about when it was publicized that Sony Pictures
had bought the rights of the novel. Therefore we could be proactive; we did not wish to wait
passively, and we decided to take the initiative. In this more proactive period we can distinguish
* Phase A (2004-2005): In this phase we aimed to avoid all forms of polemics, because as is
well known in Hollywood, controversy generates box office sales. We attempted a direct
dialogue with Sony, sending them three letters. In the first, in January 2004, the U.S. Vicar
of Opus Dei, Fr. Tom Bohlin, noted with regret the unfair treatment of the Catholic
Church, and requested that the name of Opus Dei not be used. We also requested an
interview with Amy Pascal, the head of Sony's motion pictures division. Later in 2004 Ms.
Pascal replied to us in a letter with polite but vague assurances. We were never given a
meeting with her, nor with the people working on the movie. Sony never provided us with
information about the movie. It was only through the media that we learned that Sony
planned to go ahead with their false and bizarre portrayal of the Catholic Church and Opus
* Phase B (2006): This phase, which we are in now, began on 26 December 2005, with a
declaration by Ron Howard in Newsweek in which he affirmed the complete faithfulness
of the film to the book, and explicitly said that Opus Dei would be part of the movie. This
information implied a new scenario. >From this moment we would have to present our
point of view to the opinion of the general public. Therefore on 10 January 2006
communications staff for Opus Dei met in Rome, including people from the information
offices of New York, London, Paris, Madrid, Cologne, Lagos and Montreal. In this
meeting they studied the many suggestions received, from j journalists, communications
professionals, and other colleagues. The plan would be coordinated by the Department of
Communication in Rome, after being approved by the responsible authorities. At this
meeting we described our strategy as "converting lemons into lemonade", as Time
Magazine has reported.
We now go on to describe the plan.
1. During the meeting in Rome, the essential characteristics of the situation were identified, from
the communications point of view:
a. Both products affected mainly Christians, more specifically Catholics, and only
secondarily Opus Dei.
b. They are both negative products for Christians. They could be considered a case of a
communications crisis (although a particular kind of crisis).
c. The novel and the film are phenomena of the world of communication, in the field of
fiction, with a strong element of marketing.
d. At the time of the diagnosis, the book and the film were already phenomena on the global
stage, not merely the American one.
2. Therefore the work program should be fitted to these characteristics: to implement a
communications plan that would be worldwide in its scope, Christian in its content and positive
in its tone, in order to neutralise the negative effects. Of the three possibilities (the way of
silence, the way of the Law, the way of communication) the third was chosen. The response
should always be well-mannered and friendly. Therefore style and language were not secondary
There were two principle obj ectives of the plan:
1. To take advantage of the opportunity to spread information about the reality of Jesus Christ
and of the Church, and in this context of Opus Dei. Making lemonade would mean taking
advantage of the "teaching moment", to promote the reading of reliable sources such as the
Gospels. Together with this, there was to be an information effort to show that the real Opus Dei
had nothing in common with the Opus Dei presented in the book: no monks, no murders, no
masochism, no misogyny, but ordinary Catholics, who with all their virtues and defects, try to
live out their faith in the secular world or, as Pope John Paul II put it, try "to live the Gospel in
2. To ask Sony respectfully and the team making the movie, to avoid giving offense to
Christians, by a free decision, not through pressure or threats. To tell them in public what it had
not been possible to say in private. To remind them that that it is possible to uphold freedom of
expression at the same time as showing respect. Nobody would utter words of censure or make
threats. Sony Pictures would have an opportunity make a contribution to harmony, with a gesture
of respect towards religious beliefs.
How have we been trying to communicate these obj ectives? How have we been working
to transmit our point of view?
1. In the first place, we have tried to promote a kind of "response before its time". In other
words, instead of avoiding the crisis we have tried to bring it forward, to anticipate it. With these
aims in mind, the declarations of our office have attracted the attention of the media. The three
most notable declarations have been the following:
a) 12 January 2006: The interview of Marc Carroggio with the international "Zenit New's
Agency". Thi s interview was the first official answer to Ron Howard' s words public shed in
"Newsweek", saying that the film would be completely faithful to the book. Zenit' s interview
dealt with the key points: the offensive character of this story for Christians, the importance of
respect for beliefs, and the request for a gesture of respect. Many international news agencies
(and after that many other media) reproduced parts of that interview. The New York Times
referred to it on 7 February 2006.
b) 14 February 2006: Perhaps the most widely publicized action directly promoted by ourselves
was the statement released on 14 February, to answer many questions that we were receiving
about our position on the Da Vinci Code film. The statement was also a response to Sony
Pictures, who, as reported in the New York Times of 9 February, had announced the launch of
another web site controlled by them, www. davincichallenge. com as a venue for Chri stians to
express their views. In a statement we reminded Sony that, while there was time, it was not
sufficient to give the offended party an opportunity to defend itself, rather than avoiding the
offence itself. We refused to j oin this "mediated" dialogue on their sponsored website, and
instead continued the dialogue on our own terms.
c) 6 April 2006: The Communications Office of Opus Dei in Tokyo wrote a letter to the officials
of Sony Corporation in Japan. The Office offered to give information about the real Opus Dei,
and petitioned the directors of Sony about the possibility of including a disclaimer in the soon-to-
be-released film to clarify that it is a work of fantasy and that any similarity with reality is purely
coincidental. This action, says the letter "would be a gesture of respect toward the figure of
Jesus, to the history of the Church and to the religious beliefs of viewers." One week later, the
letter was put on the official website in Japanese, and from there it was picked up by news
The aim of this "anticipated response" was that when the movie arrived everyone should
recognize it as a "comedy of errors" as far as Christianity is concerned. To indicate the errors (at
times grotesque) without lacking respect for the author, the director of the film, or any of the
actors or producers. The public declarations showed the existence of an unresolved problem, and
therefore found a place in the news.
2. A second point has been to treat the media as an ally, to give priority to demand, and
generate a worldwide dialogue in public. The launching ofa film is normally preceded by a
marketing campaign, which in this case reached enormous proportions. The producer
communicates through these means: classical publicity, such as street hoardings, television
advertisements; new forms of marketing, through mobile phones and and the internet. Huge
investments, which are impossible to combat. Therefore the Information Office decided to
respond to marketing with information: with open conversations with j journalists, to rebut the
heavily cosmeticised marketing messages, which hide the offensive aspects of the movie; to
respond with imagination to the financial investment.
Giving priority to demand means responding to all requests from j ournali sts. Taking thi s deci sion
was easy, as it has been the usual practice of the Office. But the numbers of requests from the
media have been very high, and also their reach, e.g. the New York Times, Associated Press,
Time Magazine, Chicago Tribune; broadcasters such as Channel 4 (UK), The History Channel:
programs such as Good M~orning America and the Todcay M.\ll~ When we left New York to be
present at this seminar, we were dealing with forty requests simultaneously. It has been
necessary to reinforce the offices in New York and Rome, but in general we have worked with
our normal resources.
3. Another important means in this period has been to make available lots of information in order
to show the real Opus Dei. Specifically:
a) To promote more "news". As well as the three statements already mentioned, in recent months
we have put greater effort into the diffusion of different news items to help show the real Church,
the real Opus Dei. It seemed to us that this was a service to help those who were preparing a
story or report about the Church and Opus Dei in the "Da Vinci Code era".
We have been trying to give more vi sibility to some activities that might pass unob served at
other times but that now, when everyone is writing stories about the "real Opus Dei", appear
more attractive. For instance, "Harambee 2002", a charity started at the time of the canonization
of Saint Josemaria Escriva, to foster local health and educational proj ects in sub -Saharan Africa
(www.haramb ee20O02 .org).
Together with this, many ordinary activities have been converted into "news" in this period; the
re-design of our website, the appearance of a blog by Fr John Wauck about Opus Dei and the Da
Vinci Code (www.davinci code-opu sdei.com), the launch in New York of a new editi on of The
Way", a collection of points for personal meditation on Christian life written by Josemaria
Escriva in 1934, by Doubleday, which will be distributed to all bookshops in America.
Another news item has been the documentary produced by the Saint Josemaria Institute and the
Cresta Group (Chicago) entitled "Passionately Loving the World". This 28 minutes movie shows
Americans from around the country whose lives have been transformed by the spirituality of St.
Josemaria Escriva: a Los Angeles fire-fighter, a college student, an entrepreneur, and a family on
a farm, among others. After the premier of the documentary in New York, hundreds of news
items appeared in the American media talking about the "other movie". The video itself was
news, and excerpts from it were shown on ABC, CNN and other north American stations.
b) Offering contacts, people, faces. In these times of high demand, we consider it fundamental
that j journalists have been able to speak with hundreds of contacts and witnesses.
The "media system" always needs an authorized voice. It has been possible to count on the full
availability of institutional sources (authorities of the Prelature), and on many other people
(students, older people, members of Opus Dei and friends) who have helped by recounting "their
Also, through the website we have been offering the possibility to arrange presentations on Opus
Dei in parishes, associations, clubs, etc. A text on the site says: "Do you need someone to speak
about Opus Dei for a panel or other event about The Da Vinci Code? Contact at
c) Discovering stories. Every news item has its own narrative. In this sense j ournalists need little
stories that they can put into their narration. Working together, many little stories have occurred
to us that have been useful to the media professionals. Two examples:
When the media started to increase their interest in the real Opus Dei, it turned out that there was
a real person named Silas in Opus Dei. Silas Agbim is not a murderous albino monk, but a
stockbroker from Biafra (Nigeria) who lives in Brooklyn with his wife Ngozi. A picture of the
real Silas appeared in the New York Times on 7 February, and since then he has been
interviewed by many other media outlets such as Time Magazine, CNN, CB S, ABC, and
Another example. Last 12th of February we installed a little box offering literature at the
entrance of our headquarters in Manhattan, called Murray Hill Place, with the inscription: "For
fans of The Da Vinci Code: If you are interested in the 'real' Opus Dei, take one". The box cost
$10 but pictures of it have been reproduced in more than 100 newspapers and filmed by film
crews from around the world. A "low-cost" information resource.
The Murray Hill Place building mentioned in the novel as the "worldwide headquarters of Opus
Dei" has been converted into an essential part of many narratives in which the j ournalists j oke
that they have not found the "torture chambers" mentioned in the book. Dozens of journalists
have been able to visit the "real Murray Hill Place", a multi-purpose facility located in
Manhattan at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 34th Street. It contains the offices of the
Regional Vicar of the United States, a 30 room conference center, a center with activities for
university students and young professionals (Schuyler Hall), and an area for the hospitality team
that manages the facility. Every year about 10,000 people take part in different activities there,
such as retreats, classes on Catholic doctrine, practical classes on the spiritual life, educational
and cultural lectures, preached spiritual conferences and week-long formational workshop for lay
people. "La Stampa", one of the leading newspapers in Italy, headlined our efforts inviting
people to Murray Hill as "Opus Dei: Operation Transparency".
d) The Website, and other information resources. The official website, www.opusdei.org, has
proved to be an amazing instrument in a period such as this. The site is of its nature global, like
the Da Vinci phenomenon. There we have offered the most extensive and detailed answer to the
Da Vinci Code in 22 languages. During the year 2005, the American section of the website
received more than a million different visitors (that' s visitors, not visits); and the total more than
three million. The day that these reflections were finalised in New York, there had arrived 156
messages by 9 in the morning. One curious effect is the scholar-novelist Umberto Eco' s
recommendation of the official Opus Dei website. Exhausted by continuous questions about the
veracity of the DVC, Eco tells his readers, "Besides, if you want up-to-date information on all
the matters in question, go to the site of Opus Dei. Even if you are atheists, you can trust it."
4. Together with the means themselves, we have tried always to maintain a style and tone of
respect. This was something obvious, that we had decided from the start: while asking for
respect, we should act with respect. This means never employing aggressive language, no attacks
or threats, and never judging the intentions of others. We have tried to act within the coordinates
marked by these three concepts: freedom, responsibility, dialogue. As one friend advised us,
"Never lose your sense of humor... particularly with movies and 'floating world' of
entertainment, your good nature and humor is your best defense".
The blog started by Father John Wauck has been trying to poking a little light-hearted fun at the
novel and the movie. It has been a good resource for maintaining morale at a high level.
Countering a novel and a movie is a little bit like fighting against smoke. If you swing at it with
boxing gloves, you wind up looking a little silly. Good humor works.
Provisional balance sheet
Only after the launch of the film will it be possible to draw up a complete balance sheet. For the
moment we might mention three positive results of this information effort:
1) Ecclesial co-operation. A climate of co-operation has been generated among many ecclesial
institutions, and many resources have been produced to assist in the effort to make the Church
and the person of Jesus Christ better known. In reality co-operation has extended outwards to
many other Christians.
2) Co-operation with j ournalists. The media coverage during the first quarter of 2006 has been
huge. While the promoters have invested massive sums of money "to sell their movie", Catholics
have tried "to tell their story", supplying information to j ournalists.
3) The response has worked. The anticipatory action of many Christians has already created a
general and growing awareness that the Da Vinci Code i s unfair in its portrayal of Chri stianity,
the Catholic Church, Opus Dei and history itself. Public opinion is putting the Da Vinci Code
phenomenon "in its place", as just the most recent product of a kind of "pseudo-pop culture"
without any connection with reality. Medieval historian Sandra Miesel considers the book so full
of errors that, "I'm actually surprised when The Da Vinci Code is correct about anything at all."
Faced with this clamor, the author of the book has had to post four different revisions of the
DVC "fact" page of his website. The statements all come from Dan Brown' s website and are the
succeeding answers to the same question: How much of this novel is based on fact?
- 28 August 03: "All of it. The paintings, locations, historical documents, and organizations
described in the novel all exist (...)".
- 17 January 04: "The paintings, locations, historical documents, and organizations described in
the novel all exist (...)".
- 11 May 04: "The Da Vinci Code is a novel and therefore a work of fiction. While the book' s
characters and their actions are obviously not real, the artwork, architecture, documents (...)" -
- Current (30 January 06): "The Da Vinci Code is a NOVEL and therefore a work of fiction
This provisional balance sheet cannot avoid one fundamental matter: will the movie cause
offence? After all this time we have not managed to maintain a personal or direct communication
with Sony Pictures. In this sense the communications action should be considered a provisional
failure. We do not know whether the friendly insistence of so many Christians will have made
some impact among the directors of this company and the team of professionals who have made
The Da Vinci Code has given us many headaches which, certainly, we would have preferred to
avoid. Together with thi s we have to recognize that the deci sion to communicate our point of
view openly and positively, in a proactive way, has generated a wonderful time to talk about
Christianity, the Catholic Church and the little part of the Catholic Church that is Opus Dei.
Therefore we would like to summarise the conclusions in the form of one lesson that we have
learned, and one wish that we would like to express.
1. The lesson: the importance of taking care of communications strategies, both as regards what
to communicate, and how to communicate it. We have confirmed the efficacy of what could be
called the strategy of the three 'P' s': positive, professional and polite. From this position it is
possible to be listened to and understood, especially by the media, which in this kind of situation
are not adversaries, because they understand that the Church is not a threat but a victim. The
right strategies positive, professional, polite help to get rid of the sterile dynamic of
I think that some words of the Prelate of Opus Dei in Le Figaro Magazine summarise this lesson:
"Ignorance is always bad, and information is a good thing. Communication is not a game for
amateurs. One learns with time to let oneself be known and also to know oneself. Some patience
is also needed in this area." (Le Figaro, 21-IV-04) Patience could be considered as the fourth
2. The wish: that the powerful may be more respectful. That they may freely decide to improve
their strategies and become less arrogant and more open, on discovering that upholding respect
does not reduce business, or lower the quality of art. The powerful in our society are often the
big communications corporations. With more power comes more responsibility. And in the field
of communications, the profit motive cannot be made absolute, to the detriment of the work of
journalists, or creative writers, or the audience, especially young people. An African writer,
Margaret Ogola, describes maturity as the realization that we are capable of offending, of
wounding others, and acting in consequence. Christians do not make their requests with threats,
but out of freedom. They do not have prejudices, nor do they label others: they are prepared to
applaud from their heart the maturity of politicians, of businesses, or artists who decide to work
for a society at once free and respectful of others.
THEMATIC ANALYSIS SHEET
1. Story code:
2. Transcript type:
Story 1 Promo/Short Mention 2 Repeat 3 No relevance 4
3. Name of show:
4. Air date:
5. Time show aired:
6. Opus Dei representatives quoted? Yes 1/No 2
a. If yes, name them and their affiliation:
7. Christian Church representatives quoted? Yes 1/No 2
a. If yes, name them and their affiliation:
8. Other sources quoted? Yes 1/No 2
a. If yes, name them and their affiliation:
9. Was there a scene depiction from the DVC book or movie? Yes 1/No 2
a. If yes, briefly describe scene:
10. Presence of key Opus Dei messages/stories covered in transcript? Yes 1/No 2
a. If yes, how many?:
11. Key words and phrases describing Opus Dei:
12. Key words and phrases describing 7hze Da Vinci Code book/movie:
13. Common Opus Dei Controversies mentioned:
a. Were these controversies corrected or rebutted by Opus Dei or interviewer?
Yes 1/No 2
14. Primary Frame:
Fact vs. Fiction 1
15. Secondary Frame (if any):
Fact vs. Fiction 1
War on Christianity 2
War on Christianity 2
THEMATIC ANALYSIS BOOK
1. Story code is a letter followed by a number signifying the network and transcript number
(i.e., BO6 is the sixth transcript from CBS).
ABC: A MSNBC: D
CBS: B CNN: E
NBC: C FOX: F
2. Transcript type refers to the content of the transcript and its relevance to the research
topic. Some broadcasts will be repeated at different times and should be noted as such.
Additionally, any mention of Opus Dei not related to the topic being researched should
be omitted from the analysis.
If transcript is not relevant, stop coding at number two. If transcript is a promo, brief
mention or a repeat, code through number five. If transcript is a story, code entire
3. Name of show is the name of the specific network show that the story aired on.
4. Air date is the date the story aired on that particular network.
5. Time show aired is the EST the show aired on the network.
6. Opus Dei representatives quoted asks if any members of Opus Dei were quoted in the
story and who they are.
7. Christian Church representatives quoted asks if any people from the Christian Church,
whether Catholic or not, were quoted in the story and who they are.
8. Other sources quoted asks if any other people were quoted in the story and who they are.
9. The scene depiction could be either quotes from the book or movie or a paraphrasing or
mention of a particular scene or character from the book or movie.
10. Presence of key Opus Dei messages/stories refers to several key points that Opus Dei
focused on its communication with the media including but not limited to:
"Converting lemons into lemonade"
Taking advantage of the opportunity as a "teaching moment"
The real Opus Dei had "no monks, no murders, no masochism, no misogyny"
Members are "ordinary Catholics"
Opus Dei is "open and transparent"
Redesign of Opus Dei Web site
Fr. John Wauck's blog on Opus Dei and 7He Da Vinci Code
New edition of "The Way"
"Passionately Loving The World" documentary on Opus Dei
The real Silas in Opus Dei
Brochure outside Opus Dei' s Headquarters
Opus Dei' s open letter to Sony
Opus Dei focused on these messages and stories in its information-driven public relations
campaign, which is detailed in the document, "Three Years with 7He Da Vinci Code."
11i. Key words and phrases describing Opus Dei can be found throughout the story and are
significant to the story' s overall tone towards the organization.
12. Key words and phrases describing 7He Da Vinci Code book and/or movie can be found
throughout the story are significant to the story' s overall tone towards the book and/or
13. Common Opus Dei controversies mentioned refers to several rumors and stereotypes
often made about Opus Dei. These rumors have been repeated many times throughout the
organization' s history and include but are not limited to the following:
Questionable recruiting techniques
B rai nwa shi ng/Manipul ative
Forcing members to give up salaries/Wealthy
Close ties with the Pope
If any of these common Opus Dei controversies appear in any broadcast transcripts, note
the particular controversy and also note if the controversy was corrected or rebutted
within the transcript.
14. Primary Frame is the central frame found in the story. The possible frames are:
1. Fact vs. Fiction: This frame is defined by vocabulary such as: fact, fiction, myth,
reality, real, untrue, true, false, etc. Stories featuring the fact vs. fiction frame
often present the rumors about Opus Dei and then compare them to the facts,
often given by members or Opus Dei staff.
2. War on Christianity: This frame is defined by vocabulary such as: war on
Christianity, war on Catholicism, attack, defend, rally the troops, battle, Holy
War, etc. Stories featuring the war on Christianity frame often feature experts
from the Christian Church and refer to the Vatican' s discontent over The Da
3. Opportunity: This frame is defined by vocabulary such as: making lemonade out
of lemons, opportunity, new-found publicity, opening doors, increased interest,
etc. Stories featuring the opportunity frame focus on how the crisis is actually an
opportunity for Opus Dei to spread its message across the world and set false
15. Secondary frame refers to the subframe of the story, if there is one present.
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Kirsten Biondich was born in Fort Myers, Florida. While in high school, she developed an
interest in English and communications. Biondich received her B.A. in English from Emory
University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2003 and completed several internships during this time
including positions with CNN, Atlanta Magazine and the Atlanta Press Club. After graduating
from college, she worked as an editorial coordinator for a statewide preservation organization
and as an editorial assistant for a maj or publisher. It was during these two years that Biondich
cemented her interest in public relations and decided to pursue a Master of Arts in Mass
Communication at the University of Florida.
After completing her master' s degree, Biondich plans to move to Chicago and pursue a
career with an international public relations agency.