Benedict XVI and Harry Potter
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.
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
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.
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
is still promoting her books, which is likely why she broke
this news story herself, via her website.
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.
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.
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.”
dangers of reading Harry Potter may not be entirely real, but
parents of all backgrounds do wonder. Even
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.
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.
by Jon Sweeney.