Opus Dei - the controversial Catholic religious order exposed in Dan Brown's runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code - announced they will act as consultants on an upcoming feature film on the life of their founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

The announcement was made at a Friday press conference held at the Opus Dei headquarters near Vatican City.

The project is one in a pipeline of 'communications initiatives' the group is taking on in hopes of polishing their image, which they feel was tarnished by Brown's book and the subsequent film directed by Ron Howard. The book and the film were both denounced by the Vatican.

'Yes, it is a reply to The Da Vinci Code, but not only,' Giuseppe Corigliano, spokesperson for Opus Dei told Italian daily La Repubblica. 'The story of the life of Saint Escriva is only one - even if the biggest - of a series of initiatives that will focus on increasing understanding of our prelate - both from an historical and ecclesiastical point of view.'

Rome-based Lux Vide will produce the Escriva project (details surrounding director, budget and shoot date are still secret), but a Lux Vide spokeswoman confirmed the project. Veteran Lux scribe Francesco Arlanch will pen the project with Opus Dei acting as consultants.

Corigliano also confirms that 'Opus Dei will not take part in the production but will limit itself to... protecting the authenticity of the earthly life of Saint Escriva.'

The film will trace the most important elements of Escriva's life in Spain including his call to the clergy and the Spanish Civil war, his arrival in Rome and his death in 1975. Escriva was made into a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.

There are rumours swirling around the involvement of stars like Antonio Bandaras, Nicolas Cage or Robert De Niro. A Lux Vide spokeswoman confirms this, but clarifies 'no contracts have been signed.'

Lux is the natural choice for a religious group that wants to get into film production here. Their reputation has been built on historical features and religious subjects, most notably Pompeii , Imperium, Saints, The Bible, and The 20th Century project.

Their 2005 Pope John II biopic starred Jon Voight and was premiered at the Vatican in the presence of the current Pope Benedict XVI.