The Ratzinger Code? Pope uses Dan Brown’s publisher

VATICAN CITY – If Pope Benedict hopes his first book will sell like Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” he wound up with the right U.S. publisher.

Doubleday, the company that sold Brown’s book about Jesus fathering children — which the Vatican branded as blasphemous — is also handling the American market for Benedict’s book about the life of Christ.

The Vatican’s publisher distanced itself from the decision-making process in a statement on Tuesday, but Italian media still poked fun at the choice of Doubleday.

Only last year, a Vatican cardinal threatened legal action as the book was turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, staring Tom Hanks. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now Vatican secretary of state, called it a “sack full of lies” and called for a boycott. Il Giornale newspaper jokingly declared in a front-page story that the Pope, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was now about to put out a “’Ratzinger Code”’ of his own.

The reality may be more the stuff of business acumen than intrigue.

The Vatican sold worldwide distribution rights to Italy’s Rizzoli which “independently” awarded Doubleday the U.S. rights, the Vatican’s publishing house said.

Doubleday, it noted, had published a book by Pope John Paul and other Catholic works.

Benedict’s book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” is meant to be a personal, historical-theological analysis of Jesus as the central figure of the Christian faith.

The first volume of the book will cover the life of Christ from his baptism in the River Jordan as a young man to the Transfiguration, when the gospel says three of his apostles saw his divine nature and had visions of Moses and Elijah.

Dan Brown’s book is an international murder mystery centered on attempts to uncover a secret about the life of Christ that a clandestine society has tried to protect for centuries. The central tenet of the book, which has sold more than 40 million copies, is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children.