ROME – Rome's diocese said Monday it has barred the producers of "Angels & Demons" from filming in two churches for the prequel to the "The Da Vinci Code," the popular book and film that angered many Catholic leaders.
Producers of the film, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, were turned down because the movie "does not conform to our views," said Monsignor Marco Fibbi, a spokesman for the diocese.
The crew had asked to film in the churches of Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria, two architectural jewels in the heart of Rome that include paintings by Caravaggio, sculptures by Bernini and a chapel designed by Raphael.
Permission was denied in 2007, but the issue surfaced only now that filming is ongoing in Rome, Fibbi said. The Sony-produced film was put on hold during the Writers Guild of America strike that ended in February and is now scheduled for release in May 2009.
Fibbi's comments first were reported this week by the Italian entertainment magazine "TV Sorrisi e Canzoni." "It's a film that treats religious issues in a way that contrasts with common religious sentiment," Fibbi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "We would be helping them create a work that might well be beautiful but that does not conform to our views."
Fibbi acknowledged that the controversy over writer Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and its blockbuster movie version had weighed on the decision.
The story drew anger and prompted calls for boycotts by church leaders worldwide with the idea that Jesus married and fathered children and by depicting the conservative Catholic movement, Opus Dei, as a murderous cult.
"This is a prequel to 'The Da Vinci Code' and it's clear that the theme is similar," Fibbi said. He added that the ban would not stop the crew from filming the exterior of the churches.
Brown's "Angels and Demons" is a religious thriller combining an ancient secret brotherhood called the Illuminati, code-cracking, a papal conclave and a high-tech weapon threatening to destroy the Vatican.
It features Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon of "The Da Vinci Code" fame, played by Hanks in the movie.
Calls to Sony Pictures in London and Rome were not immediately returned Monday.