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LOSSERVATORE-POTTER Jan-15-2008 (520 words) xxxi

Writers in Vatican newspaper debate lessons of Harry Potter novels

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican newspaper sponsored a face-off between a writer who said the Harry Potter novels offer lessons in the importance of love and self-giving and one who said they teach that with secret knowledge one can control others and the forces of nature.

The newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, dedicated a full page in its Jan. 14-15 issue to the debate about the novels by J.K. Rowling. The Italian translation of the last novel, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," was released in early January.

Paolo Gulisano, a physician and the author of a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, said that the Harry Potter books counter the individualism of the modern age by making a hero of a boy "guided by moral values such as the choice of good, giving, sacrifice, friendship and love."

The stories, he said, teach young people "without moralizing" that material riches, immortality and anything obtained without effort "are illusions and that what truly counts is commitment, friendship and love."

"It is not power, not success, not an easy life that lead to the truest and deepest joy, but friendship, self-giving and adhering to the truth," he said.

But Edoardo Rialti, a professor of English literature at the University of Florence, said the books "communicate a vision of the world and of the human person that is full of profound errors and dangerous suggestions."

First, he said, the books teach that "evil is good," and that violence, lying, trickery and manipulation can be positive if used to obtain something good.

But the deeper problem, he said, is that the books advocate gnosticism, the idea that a select elite can develop special powers and gifts through specialized knowledge that is hidden from most mortals -- or "muggles," as normal humans are called in Rowling's books.

The professor ended his article by saying that Pope Benedict XVI was correct to express concern about the books in a 2003 letter to a German writer.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he wrote to Gabriele Kuby to acknowledge receipt of her book, "Harry Potter: Gut oder Bose" ("Harry Potter: Good or Bad"), which cautioned that children could become fascinated with the occult through reading the series.

The future pope praised Kuby'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. He also suggested Kuby send a copy of her book to Msgr. Peter Fleetwood, then an official at the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Msgr. Fleetwood told Catholic News Service in 2005 that he received a copy of the book in 2003 and wrote Kuby a four-page letter explaining where he thought she may have misunderstood or read too much into the books. He said he never heard back from her.

Msgr. Fleetwood 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.


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