ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas concedes that her network is stepping into a theological minefield with its one-hour exploration of whether Jesus Christ had a wife.
The ABC News special, “Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci,” is scheduled to air Monday at 8 p.m.
“You can’t talk about this subject without intriguing people or offending people,” Vargas said Thursday. “We’re trying to do it as respectfully as we can.”
ABC screened the special for some reporters and religious leaders on Thursday. The program is based on the bestselling novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” which claims to be partly grounded in historical fact.
The book asserts that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife -- not a prostitute, as in some teachings -- and that she fled Jerusalem with his child after his crucifixion.
The story was kept alive for centuries by a secret society that included the painter Leonardo Da Vinci, who supposedly inserted clues about it in his art, the book claims.
The ABC program outlines the theories and speaks to several theologians who either discount the story or assert that it is possible.
The show unravels like a mystery perpetuated by secondhand gossip. Vargas said ABC found no proof that Jesus had a wife but couldn’t completely discount it either.
Vargas, who was raised a Roman Catholic, said her own parents said to her, “Oh, my goodness, what are you doing?” when they found out she was working on the story.
She said she was not previously aware of the power struggles and political intrigue that went into how her faith is taught today.
“For me, it’s made religion more real and ironically, much more interesting -- which is what we’re hoping to do for our viewers,” she said.
The program drew some immediate criticism, particularly from a representative of the Catholic League, who said ABC News relied too heavily on the opinion of Father Richard McBrien of Notre Dame, who believes Mary Magdalene’s importance has been historically understated and that it’s possible she was his wife.
“I think it was not sufficiently balanced,” said Joseph DeFeo, policy analyst for the Catholic League. “The majority of the people who spoke believed in either the plausibility or the outright truth of [book author] Dan Brown’s claims. The facts themselves scream out that this is a crackpot theory.”