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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI and Harry Potter

Turning now from what I imagined was a somewhat substantial post on Islam and the religious roots of terrorism to a far weighter topic which absolutely demands our readers' attention: the INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SCANDAL involving Pope Benedict's alleged CONDEMNATION of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series in an apparent reprisal of his former role as the VATICAN ENFORCER. (News at 11).

When I half-jokingly mentioned Cardinal Ratzinger's comments on in our last Benedict Roundup as one that may cause international division, I didn't anticipate that it would recieve this much attention. . . . never underestimate the power of a hysterical MSM (Mainstream Media) to blow this out of proportion.

Consequently, here is the obligatory "Harry Potter" roundup for those who are interested:

  • Beginning once again, here is the source of the papal criticism of Harry Potter: Pope Benedict Opposes Harry Potter Novels, June 27, 2005:

    In 2003, a month after the English press throughout the world falsely proclaimed that Pope John Paul II approved of Harry Potter, the man who was to become his successor sent a letter to a Catholic German critic of Harry Potter outlining his agreement with her opposition to Rowling's offerings. . . .

    The main thrust of Kuby's objection to Potter is that the books corrupt the hearts of the young, preventing them from developing a properly ordered sense of good and evil, thus harming their relationship with God while that relationship is still in its infancy.

    In the Zenit interview, Kuby quotes from the letter she received from Cardinal Ratzinger. In the letter, then-Cardinal Ratzinger specifically pointed to the fact that the danger in the Potter books is hidden was greatly concerning. "It is good that you shed light and inform us on the Harry Potter matter, for these are subtle seductions that are barely noticeable and precisely because of that deeply affect (children) and corrupt the Christian faith in souls even before it (the Faith) could properly grow," said Cardinal Ratzinger.

  • David Paul Deavel @ The Seventh Age notes:

    . . . A private communication to a German friend saying, "ja, good article, you're probably right," is not a public statement that merits much attention without further reason. Even if the Pope had read the series and made the comments, which it is fairly certain he did not, Catholics are not bound to papal literary criticism. Catholics, said Chesterton, are bound in faith to agree on a few things, but tend to disagree about everything else.

  • Domenico Bettinelli's commentary here, who reminds us that "In 2001, at Catholic World Report, we ran an article by Catholic author Michael O'Brien that was critical of the Harry Potter novels and the paganization of children's culture": "Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children's Culture" Catholic world News Oct. 10, 2001. (Michael O'Brien has posted his own views on Pope Benedict and Harry Potter on his website).

  • Additional commentary -- on the book, not the article -- by Catholic author Amy Welborn, Sorting Through Harry Potter":

    There's only one reason the Harry Potter books are in the least bit controversial. Just one.


    That's it. If we didn't have this ridiculous little "religion" bustling around, forming "covens" in dorm rooms and getting army chaplains, I doubt one parent in a million would even think to waste even a minute being concerned about these books. . . .

    If you want to chat about the article, one need only turn to Ms. Welborn's commentariat, 106 comments and counting.

    As to the 'criticism' itself, Michelle Arnold (friend of Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin) has a good assessment of LifesiteNews' article:

    . . . The trouble with articles like the one on Lifesite is that they cause a lot of controversy without much substance. The same was true a couple of years ago when Roman exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth nixed the Potter series. Naysayers pounced on this and trumpeted it to fans of the series while failing to mention that Fr. Amorth was only speaking on his own authority and not the Church's. Now that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has become Pope Benedict XVI, naysayers are hoping to stir the cauldron again. Granted, the remarks should be discussed, even investigated, to ascertain what was said and the context in which it was said. But misleading headlines and sensationalistic articles are not the way to foster calm and reasoned inquiry.

    Jimmy Akin himself has a series of posts: LifeSiteNews Calls Kettle Black ("LifeSiteNews.Com, best known for reporting pro-life issues, has just performed a disservice to both the Catholic community and the newsreading community in general. . . .").

    Pre-B16 on Harry Potter, containing a substantial analysis of the original letters sent to Gabriele Kuby, the author of a German anti-Harry Potter book and subject of the LifeSiteNews' report

    Vatican Radio On Pre-16 Potter Brouhaha, posting in full "a transcript [of] a recent broadcast of Vatican Radio dealing with the alleged remarks of then-Cardinal Ratzinger on the Harry Potter books . . . [given by] Msgr. Peter Fleedwood, the Vatican official who initially made (what turn out to be) moderately pro-Potter comments when asked a question about the books at a press conference."

  • When I originally blogged the LifeSite article, I quipped that "the Holy Father's personal judgements on certain issues have been a source of division between the Papacy and orthodox American Catholics . . . no, I'm not talking about the war in Iraq: here is a far graver issue with potential for division on an international scale" -- of course, it was only a matter of time before the Open Book Commentariat turned to the question of this very matter. Jim Cork:

    But seriously, I seem to recall that when then-Cardinal Ratzinger stated that the Iraq war could not be morally justified, many people protested that we were not bound by his private opinions, and that there was room for legitimate disagreement. I guess a children's book is a more serious matter than war and peace and all that.

    Reactions aplenty, although the conversation has shifted from Potter to the familiar territory of Iraq, WMD's, Bush lied, etc.

  • As far as the question of magic is concerned -- I'd recommend the following essay as a "must read" on the topic, be they fans of Tolkien or Rowling or both (passed along by a reader at Jimmy Akin's): Harry Potter vs. Gandalf: An in-depth analysis of the literary use of magic in the works of J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis, a booklet-length essay by Steven D. Greydanus (

    As Greydanus contends, whether it's C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling, the use of magic itself is secondary to the larger and deeper themes of the works -- the relationships btw/ characters, the choices they make, the moral lessons learned.

    In any case, one should bear in mind that these are matters of personal judgement. Archbishop Pell of Sydney expressed his qualified enjoyment of the Harry Potter series in a column:

    "I like Harry Potter, a more pleasant escapism for me, but also much more superficial, predictable and sentimental than Tolkien's world.

    Tolkien had fought in the First World War and his masterpiece was written with the Second World War as background. He knew evil at first hand and has written powerfully of the attractions of wicked power, treachery, human weakness and inconstancy.

    The Harry Potter series are brilliantly written children's books, which many adults enjoy. Tolkien has produced much deeper, sterner stuff; an escapism certainly, which he describes not as the flight of the deserter, but as the escape of the prisoner. Into a world guided by a hidden benign Providence where a host of coincidences, occasional heroism, the weakness of the good and the dark scheming of the evil are all brought to achieve a partial victory for goodness.

    I personally concur with Archbishop Pell. Hopefully children and adults who cut their teeth on Harry Potter will eventually come to appreciate the challenging but ultimately rewarding fiction of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

That's a roundup of Catholic commentary. As Domenico Bettinelli predicted:

Whatever your opinion of the Potter books (and the disapprobation of a pope before he was elected does not bind Catholic consciences), it is clear that the mainstream media will see this as a fun newsworthy story to fill the summer news doldrums with a ginned-up controversy.

So, finishing off with a few choice headlines from the MSM:


Update! 9/30/07

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