The Pope and Potter

The Pope and Potter

You should expect to see in the next few days, major newspapers and cable news to start trumpeting in inch-high headlines that Pope Benedict opposes Harry Potter. Just as the new Potter novel hits the stores, we see letters from 2003 in which Cardinal Ratzinger voiced his approval of a book criticizing the novels as being a danger to the young.

“It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly,” wrote Cardinal Ratzinger.

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.

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.

  • If the pope as Peter paned a part of Harry Potter, where’s the part of Harry Potter the pope as Peter paned?

  • “the disapprobation of a pope before he was elected does not bind Catholic consciences”

    But it certainly INFORM Catholic consciences.  It was common sense from day one that the Harry Potter books were bad news, and bad for children.

  • If this pope’s mind, studied and brilliant as it is and has been, concluded that the Potter books confuse little minds and hearts in formation, then maybe the MSM may just be, inadvertently, doing some good for once.  Check out Drudge!

  • I hope the news media shout Benedict’s disapproval to the rooftops!  He is correct.  The only way I’d let a kid of mine read them is if we read them together so I could point out the problems as we went along, and I’d only do that if the popular culture made it mandatory.  First choice would be not to let my kid near them.

  • Okay, people.  Deep breath time.  Is anyone else disturbed about the lack of evidence that the Pope, uh, read any of the books?  The actual text of his letter to Ms. Kuby made me very nervous.  It looks like he’s encouraging a sincere attempt at Protecting the Children ™, while complimenting a fellow German at the same time.  Fine and good.  But if he DIDN’T read any of the books, then we have a problem.

    Can anyone imagine him rubber-stamping what some other theologian said about, say, Father Charles Curran—as opposed to personally investigating the material before rendering judgment? 

    Maybe he did read all of them and spent long hours applying that steel-trap mind to their spiritual implications.  But I have a hunch he’s had better things to do with his time. In which case, prudent silence is preferable to validation a third person party’s opinion. 

    I can’t say one thing, pro or con, about the Harry Potter books.  Why not?  Because I haven’t read them.

    Before anyone says, “Oh, but he wasn’t speaking as official head of the CDF,” or “Oh, but his views on literature aren’t binding on Catholics,” I know that.  But unless I’m wrong (and I hope I am) it looks like he spoke strongly against a book series he never cracked open himself.

    Can you say undermined papal credibility?

  • I’m with Patrick on this one.  I don’t believe for one minute that the Pope actually read the books.  You can write a lot of criticism of them that, … how can I say this…, is critical of the right things and has NOTHING to do with the HP books.  (And you can also dislike them just because of your personal taste.)  But I have always thought of them as similar to the Jesuits in China flap.  The Jesuits dressed as mandarins to gain the confidence of the Chinese and then taught them true Christian doctrine.  Some people saw the dress and shut the whole situation down.  Result: China not Christianized. 

    Rowling’s books have a certain modern flavor with some very old fashioned messages.  (Good and evil exist and you should fight evil.  You have to learn how to do this and it takes courage, for example. Also, Ouija boards are really, really evil.)  They also fall into an English tradition about boarding school rather like Stalky and Co. (Kipling).  I have never read a critique of Harry Potter that made me believe that my children shouldn’t read the books (and my own sister wrote one of them).  We constantly derive deeply Christian messages from the books.  But we don’t forget that they are fantasy either. 

    Oh, and I’d have a higher opinion of Michael O’Brien if he’d ever realized that the idea of dragons came straight from dinosaur bones being found.  There’s a medieval statue of a “dragon” that actually uses a fossilized dinosaur head in case any one wonders.  (I didn’t follow the link; I read his book long ago.)

  • I can hardly wait to buy this on Saturday!

    The Pope’s comment are on the local news here in NYC this AM.

  • I’ve read all the Hairy Potter books and I would say Rowling doesn’t have a solid philosophical foundation with which to address the ‘big themes’ she likes to touch upon (such as death).

    In addition, even when she gets stuff right she puts in a lot of confusion and little clarity—two sentences from Dumbledore doesn’t make up for several pages of confusion from others scattered thoughout the books.

    I would let kids read Harry Potter after they’ve read all the actual good books—because at that point they’d be A) older, B) never get to HP in the first place, and C) equipped to distinguish good from harmful.

  • Jane,

    “Oh, and I’d have a higher opinion of Michael O’Brien if he’d ever realized that the idea of dragons came straight from dinosaur bones being found.”

    Could you expound upon this a bit more.  What, exactly, are you referring to?  Thanks.

  • How bout this for another sequel:  HARRY POTTER MEETS THE EXORCIST

    I’d go see it if he spun his head around and coughed up some pea soup!

    I liked the CWN piece…it was thorough, fair, and scholarly. The author’s a ‘wizard’!

  • Hmm..I have a Harry Potter movie sitting on my now I am motivated to watch it.

    Any book that strove to cofuse the lines between good and evil would earn my concern but there is no evidence that the Potter books do this.

    The general problem is more crappy catechism .. not the dope addled mutterings that were passed to me in the my 1970s CCD lessons but the lamer, proto-protestant, “It takes a village” bull that gets foisted on our children ….. that’s the real threat.