Spiritual guidance for anyone seeking a path to God. explorefaith.org


Explore God's Love Explore Your Faith Explore the Church Explore Who We Are  


In the News


In the News:

Harry Potter—Why Millions of Kids Identify
with the Boy-Hero

Is Harry Bewitching Our Youth?
Parents and Churches Respond to the Potter Phenomenon

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger Becomes
Pope Benedict XVI

Harry Potter and Elijah

Focus on Film
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The Da Vinci Cod


Signpost: Daily Devotions

Oasis: Take a Moment to Meditate

Reflections for Your Journey
Register for a
weekly reflection

Send a card from explorefaith.org


August 2, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI and Harry Potter
by Jon M. Sweeney

Two years ago, before being elected the new pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger corresponded with a Bavarian Roman Catholic woman about the dangers of Harry Potter.

Gabriele Kuby, a sociologist by training, was at that time publicizing her just-written book, Harry Potter: Good or Evil?, criticizing J. K. Rowling’s books and their influence over the minds of children. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to Kuby in agreement that the Potter stories are anti-Christian and dangerous for young minds.

Ratzinger’s letter is now making big news all over the world. As the sixth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is breaking every possible sales record, Catholics are wondering if they should stop reading it.

It was March 7, 2003, and Cardinal Ratzinger was responding to the free copy that Kuby had sent him, when he wrote in his native German: “Good for you to enlighten us in the matter of Harry Potter. These are subtle seductions that are barely noticeable, and precisely because of that they have a deep effect and corrupt the Christian faith in souls even before it could properly grow.”

Kuby is still promoting her books, which is likely why she broke this news story herself, via her website.

At the time of his comments (and he later gave Ms. Kuby permission to quote from them), Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position that he held for almost a quarter century. The Congregation is traditionally the watchdog of the Vatican, responsible for identifying and rooting out dissent and heresy around the world; it was once known as the Inquisition.

John L. Allen, Jr., author of The Word from Rome, a weekly National Catholic Reporter column on Vatican affairs, wrote on July 22, “For anyone familiar with the pope’s views on other facets of pop culture—he once excoriated rock music as a ‘vehicle of anti-religion’—the verdict is probably not much of a surprise.” But, still, a lot of Catholics take very seriously the words of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who is now the pope.

Some reactions have been measured and cautious, such as this anonymous one posted on a Catholic website: “Pope Benedict XVI is our Pastor and so even if some of his views or teachings are not infallible teachings, they should still be listened to with appropriate docility. In the end you can disagree, but only after prayerfully giving it due consideration and weight.”

The dangers of reading Harry Potter may not be entirely real, but parents of all backgrounds do wonder. Even this Episcopalian columnist was surprised recently to hear his 10-year-old son announce that he preferred to “take the side of evil” in his electronic, hand-held Star Wars game, because “it is more fun when they win.”

Many Catholics agree with Pope Benedict XVI in the dangers of Christians being subtly led away from the faith by cultural and theological relativism. But, it is difficult to find much support among Catholics when it comes to specific charges, whether it was several months ago, when Cardinal Ratzinger was speaking out against The Da Vinci Code, and now, against Harry Potter.

One of the most measured reactions on the Web in recent days came from a Catholic blogger: “Are the novels in the series just harmless, imaginative, children's adventure stories, or do they necessarily lead children to the occult and serious witchcraft? These are straw men, so naturally the answer is ‘neither.’ As with many things in life, children can realize the benefits and avoid the pitfalls if guided by involved and informed parents. Harry Potter can be enjoyed in the context of the family such that children are not cut off from God, are not without a foundation that supports them, do have the spirit of discernment between good and evil, and have the necessary strength and knowledge to withstand the temptations to evil.”

“On the other hand, it is also not a magisterial judgment, and Catholics are free to take other views,” reminds John L. Allen, Jr.

Catholics, take heart. Read.

To see Cardinal Ratzinger’s original March 2003 letter, written in German, visit the LifeSiteNews web site, and search for Harry Potter.

—Jon M. Sweeney is a writer and editor living in Vermont. His memoir, Born Again and Again: Surprising Gifts of a Fundamentalist Childhood is to be published next month.
More by Jon Sweeney.

(Return to Top)



Send this article to a friend.

Copyright ©1999-2007 explorefaith.org