It has been condemned as "shameful and unfounded". The Catholic Church even appointed one of its top cardinals to expose Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code as a tissue of lies. But now the Church is exploiting the bestseller's popularity - to boost understanding of Catholicism.
Today the Catholic Enquiry Office, an executive agency of the Church set up to stimulate interest in Catholic life, launches a website of articles, images, prayers, and even recipes, designed to accompany the text. It is hoped teachers will employ the online guide when using The Da Vinci Code in English, RE and history lessons.
At the heart of the novel is the notion that the Church has, for centuries, concealed the fact that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and bore him a child.
It also portrays Opus Dei, the Catholic sect which lists Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary, among its members, as a sinister cult prepared to murder.
The success of the book led Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, to launch what he called a mission "to unmask the lies" spun by the author.
But Clare Ford, enquiry office spokeswoman, said: "We think it is actually an excellent opportunity to look at people's spirituality and provide an accurate interpretation of some of the distorted facts presented in the book."
Simon Wrigley, chairman of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "Any book which causes controversy and stirs up a bit of interest in reading should be encouraged."