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Crowe's rope-a-pope plan fails

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Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in a scene from Noah.

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Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in a scene from Noah.

VATICAN CITY -- Actor Russell Crowe and the makers of the big-budget film Noah attended Pope Francis' general audience Wednesday but didn't get what they most wanted: a papal meeting and photo op.

Crowe had lobbied hard for a papal thumbs-up for his film and the ensuing publicity a Francis blessing would bring. The film has been banned in much of the Muslim world because of its depiction of the Prophet, while U.S. conservatives have complained it took liberties with the biblical account of the flood.

The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the request from Noah's producers for a private audience was immediately turned down.

In an email Wednesday to The Associated Press, Lombardi said there was similarly no scheduled "meet and greet" after Wednesday's general audience, when VIPs can often get a quick word with the Pope.

"They could have been at the audience like anyone else," Lombardi said. Wednesday's audience drew an estimated crowd of 80,000.

Francis is loath to lend such blessings for publicity. Given his sensitivities to the Muslim world -- and his upcoming trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories -- it would seem natural he would decline any public endorsement of a film that might offend Muslim viewers.

Variety reported that the Noah delegation, including Crowe, director Darren Aronofsky, producer Scott Franklin, and the vice-chairman of Paramount Pictures, Rob Moore, had met with the Pope. Variety cited a spokeswoman for Universal, which is distributing the film in Italy.

But in an email to AP, Paramount merely said the delegation "went to hear" Francis' address at the audience.

Crowe was spotted in the VIP section of St. Peter's Square, but was too far back to reach the Pope.

After the audience, Crowe tweeted: "Thank you holy father @Pontifex for the blessing," and "What a privilege, attended the Udienza with the holy father @Pontifex."

Despite his general aversion to publicity, Francis did make an exception and greeted Philomena Lee and the makers of the Oscar-nominated film Philomena during a recent general audience. The film is based on Lee's story of being sent to a Catholic-run boarding house in Ireland where she was forced to give up her son for adoption.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2014 B4

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