Jesuit dismisses reporting of Pope condemnation of Harry Potter

Fr Michael Kelly told a breakfast TV presenter this morning that reporting of Pope Benedict's private views about the children's literature phenomenon Harry Potter do not constitute an authoritative Church statement.

Fr Kelly, CEO of Church Resources, was commenting on widespread media attention being given to private letters written by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2003, which have been used to suggest that he disapproves of Harry Potter in his present capacity as Pontiff.

In the cardinal's letter, excerpted on the website of a German academic, he praised the academic's attempt to "enlighten people about Harry Potter", and the possible "subtle seductions" that can distort children's thinking before they mature in the Christian faith. This was put forward by some groups - such as the Canadian lifesite.net website - as a papal condemnation, and subsequently widely reported in the media.

"It does not represent the Catholic view," Fr Kelly told Channel 7's national Sunrise program. "He was writing as a private individual."

He suggested that the resurrection of the old letters - first reported by CathNews last month - was a publicity stunt, ahead of tomorrow's release of the sixth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

"The publishers have sat on the letter for some time," he said. "It's a bit like getting a world leader to announce the publication."

Fr Kelly explained his view that if Catholics are obliged to ignore Harry Potter, it could equally be argued that under Pope John Paul II, they were required to join the Holy Father in supporting the Liverpool football team.

But he hesitated to either endorse or condemn the new Potter book, instead suggesting that it feeds the imagination.

"It's about young minds imagining the way things are," he said. "It's about growing the imagination, which is a good and healthy thing."

The Vatican press office said yesterday it would have no comment on the letter since Pope Benedict XVI and his secretary were on vacation in the northern Italian Alps. Catholic News Service reports that a former Vatican official said Harry Potter books must be read as children's literature, not theology.

Monsignor Peter Fleetwood, formerly of the Pontifical Council for Culture told Catholic News Service yesterday that on a moral level, the books "pit good against evil, and good always wins."

But he said the most appropriate way to judge Harry Potter is not on the basis of theology, but according to the criteria of children's literature and whether children will read the books willingly.

Channel 7 Sunrise (no transcript)
New attention given to 2003 Cardinal Ratzinger letter on Harry Potter (Catholic News Service 14/7/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The Problem of Harry Potter (LifeSite)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Amazon)
Vatican official has kind word for Harry Potter's magical world (National Catholic Reporter 21/2/03)
Gabriele-Kuby.de | Harry Potter
Pope sticks up for Potter books (BBC 3/2/03)

Website claims Pope opposes Harry Potter (CathNews 29/6/05)
Vatican 'no problems' with Harry Potter (CathNews 4/2/03)
Harry Potter can help us explain Word of God (CathNews 8/8/03)

Pope disapproves of Harry Potter (Reuters/Daily Telegraph 14/7/05)
Uganda Church leaders lament lifting of presidential term limits (Catholic World News 14/7/05)
Pope Opposes Harry Potter Novels - Signed Letters from Cardinal Ratzinger Now Online (LifeSiteNews.com 13/7/05)
Pope's verdict: Beware of Harry (The Advertiser 15/7/05)

15 Jul 2005