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If reports out of Europe are accurate, Pope Benedict XVI has a negative view of the phenomenally popular novels by J. K. Rowling, who writes on the adventures of the young wizard named Harry Potter.

In recent years proponents of the occult novels, including many Catholics, have argued that they are only entertainment and have pointed to Father Peter Fleetwood, a priest who had been on the Pontifical Council for Culture and who at a press conference about the New Age indicated that he had no problem with the books.

It was an off-handed remark in response to a question from a liberal reporter but because the priest was connected with a pontifical group, it led proponents to declare his remarks as the Vatican's (and hence John Paul II's) viewpoint.

Suddenly, the Pope was declared as a fan of Harry Potter.

“The Vatican Backs Harry Potter” and “The Vatican is Giving Two Thumbs Up to the Harry Potter Series” were among the headlines that quickly grabbed world attention.

Of course, the Vatican never did take a formal stand on Potter (it was the view of a single priest), and in fact around the same time the official exorcist for the City of Rome, Gabriele Amorth, warned loudly -- including in The New York Times -- that the books could be dangerous.

So did authors such Gabriele Kuby, a German sociologist who penned a book, Harry Potter – Gut Oder Böse ("Harry Potter, Good or Bad?") pointing out the hazards of books that glorify witchcraft.

According to one review, it was Kuby's concern that Harry Potter may have the long-term aim of reducing inhibitions against the occult and that Hogwarts -- the school for witchcraft and sorcery -- "is a closed world of violence and horror, curses and bewitchment, racial ideology, blood sacrifice, gore, and possession -- an atmosphere that could be transferred to the young reader" (as indeed occult books often transfer negativity to the reader or viewer).

The books are "counter-faith" -- replacing Christianity with occult powers, Kuby has implied, adding that instead of a lesson on good winning over evil -- as many defenders describe the series -- evil has grown stronger as the series has evolved. She argues that it was unconstitutional for churches to use the books in school, according to the review.

In 2003, Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reportedly wrote a letter to Kuby in which he lauded her work. In the letter Benedict applauded Kuby for "educating the public" and cited the apprentice magician's "subtle seduction," reports Ludger Lufthaus in Die Zeit, a German journal.

"It is good," wrote Cardinal Ratzinger, according to one translation, "that you carefully clarify any philosophical questions, especially those which may address important ecclesiastical concerns," adding that "subtle seduction of the heart and soul, albeit somewhat imperceptible, must be exposed wherever it is found."

In another translation the quote from the Pope in his letter to Kuby states: "It is good that you explain the facts of Harry Potter, because this is a subtle seduction, which has deeply unnoticed and direct effects in undermining the soul of Christianity before it can really grow properly."

Whatever the precise translation, this is big news not only because Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope -- leader of millions of Catholics who have read the books, or allowed their children to do so -- but because another major Rowling book is due in a few weeks and promises to be a blockbuster. Will Benedict, now that he is Pope, enter the fray?

Many good Christians have decided that the Potter series is harmless and fret that opposing it paints Christians as Pentecostal-style "extremists." Even the film department of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supported the last movie.

But Kuby sees hidden agendas behind the world's most popular children's books. The world of humans is denigrated, summarized the reviewer, while the world of witches and sorcerers is glorified. Evil is good. Some point out that the Rowling books include actual wiccan incantations.

Such allegations have caused an outcry by the likes of Hollywood.com and also a Welsh firebrand singer named Charlotte Church -- who sang for the last Pope but apparently isn't too happy with the new one.

"Charlotte, who maintains she is a good Catholic girl, has attacked Benedict XVI -- and it's all over Harry Potter!" says a publication called Sky.com. "The 19-year-old 'Voice of an Angel' claims he is talking a bunch of old Hogwarts after he branded the books 'products of evil.' Potter fan Charlotte is quoted in the Sun as saying: 'I'm from a Catholic family. But I don't like this new Pope. He even wants to ban Harry Potter!'"

Oh, that he would.

[see also: spiritual warfare books]

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