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ROME (Reuters) - Director Ron Howard accused the Vatican on Sunday of trying to hamper the filming and the Rome roll-out of his new movie "Angels & Demons," and challenged Catholic critics to see the film before condemning it.
The movie sequel to author Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" will premiere in Rome on Monday, with fictional symbologist Robert Langdon returning to the big screen to help the Vatican rescue kidnapped cardinals and find a ticking time-bomb.
The Vatican was outraged by "The Da Vinci Code" and the Rome archdiocese made no secret about denying Howard authorization to film parts of the follow-up inside its churches.
Howard said the Vatican also exerted its influence "through backchannels" to try to prevent him from shooting in areas around certain churches and got an event related to the film's premiere canceled, he said.
"There was supposed to be a reception or screening here in Rome that had been approved and I suppose that the Vatican had some influence over that," Howard told a news conference.
A Vatican spokesman declined to comment.
Fanning controversy, a 102-year-old Italian bishop was quoted in Italian media over the weekend calling the film "highly denigrating, defamatory and offensive to Church values and the reputation of the Holy See."
"My only frustration as a film-maker is that we actually reached out a couple of times, going back to March, to sort of offer opportunities for bishops and others just to see the film. And those opportunities have all been declined," Howard said.
"So far all the criticism, all of the complaints about the film have been coming from people who haven't seen it."
"The Da Vinci Code" upset the Vatican and some Catholics because of its storyline that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children, creating a royal bloodline that Church officials kept secret for centuries.
Christians are taught that Jesus never married, was crucified and rose from the dead.
The storyline of "Angels & Demons" does not raise questions about Jesus Christ. It is billed as a "science-vs-religion" thriller that deals with an attempt to hijack a papal election.
Despite some criticism in Italy and the United States, reaction so far by Catholics to "Angels & Demons" has not been as thunderous as it was with the release of "The Da Vinci Code."
Tom Hanks, who again stars as Langdon, acknowledged that films thrive on controversy.
"The marketing department of any studio would love to create controversy over their films, but they can't do it on their own. They need a shared partner," Hanks said.
Dan Brown refused to discuss his next novel about Langdon's adventures, which publisher Random House has said will be called "The Lost Symbol" and will be released in September.
But Brown suggested that Howard was the ideal director for a film adaptation of the new book. Howard's adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code," which was panned by critics, earned more than $750 million at the box office worldwide.
"I am very certain that someday, in the hands of Ron Howard, it is going to make an absolutely terrific movie," he said.
Editing by Janet Lawrence