By Hilary White
ROME, July 14, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's quasi-official newspaper, has heaped praise on the latest film adaptation of the Harry Potter series of children's books, criticised previously as spiritually dangerous by Pope Benedict XVI prior to his elevation to the pontificate. The review called the film, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the "most successful of the series" thus far.
In his review in yesterday's Italian edition of the paper, Gaetano Vallini praised the film for promoting "friendship, altruism, loyalty and self-giving" and said that the kind of magic portrayed in the film is the same as magic in fairy tales.
The new film and the books make clear, he said, "the line of demarcation between one who does good and one who does evil, and it is not difficult for the reader or the viewer to identify with the first." "This is particularly true in the latest film. They know that doing good is the right thing to do. And they also understand that sometimes this involves hard work and sacrifice," Vallini continued.
L'Osservatore Romano's praise for Harry Potter has been widely reported in the mainstream media in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Polish language sources. Making no distinction between official approval by an office of the Vatican and a newspaper movie review, The Daily Telegraph ran the headline, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince praised by Vatican," and commented, "The Catholic Church has heaped praise on the latest Harry Potter film after previously accusing the books of promoting witchcraft and the occult."
The Telegraph was only one among the many mainstream news sources to observe the unusual praise for Harry Potter by the Vatican's quasi-official newspaper. The Daily Mail ran the headline, "Vatican U-turn as it gives new Harry Potter film its seal of approval." Some reports noted the stark contrast between this week's Vallini review with comments on Harry Potter made in L'Osservatore Romano last year when the paper condemned the books for encouraging an interest in the occult among children.
In January 2008, Edoardo Rialti wrote in L'Osservatore Romano that despite "superficially apparent common points" with such fantasy children's classics as the Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series, Harry Potter presents a "wrong model" for a hero. He referred to the "half truths" the books present on moral issues in which "the moral and spiritual structures are inverted or confused, a world in which evil is good."
"Despite the values that we come across in the narration, at the base of this story, witchcraft is proposed as a positive ideal," Rialti wrote. The film's negative characterisation of ordinary people as "Muggles" who "know nothing other than bad and wicked things is a truly diabolical attitude."
The Vallini review appears to contrast too with the expressed opinion of Pope Benedict XIV on the danger to young people the books represent. In a 2003 letter, then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote that the books presented "subtle seductions" that can "deeply distort Christianity" in children.
Cardinal Ratzinger was responding to the work of German journalist and religious writer Gabriele Kuby who had just published her 2003 book, "Harry Potter - Good or evil?"
In a letter to Kuby dated March 7, 2003 Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, "It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly."
Advocates of the Catholic teachings on life and family, particularly as they pertain to the public sphere, are becoming increasingly dismayed by the shift in editorial tenor of the Vatican paper.
In comments in late June on another article appearing in L'Osservatore Romano on the occasion of the death of American pop star Michael Jackson, US Catholic commentator Deal Hudson wrote that the paper is undergoing a "downward spiral" under its recently appointed editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian. Hudson has been a vocal critic of the paper's glowing coverage of Barack Obama, presenting the virulently pro-abortion president as acceptable to Catholics.
Also commenting on the Jackson article, American canonist and canon law professor Edward N. Peters, wrote that such anomalies as these in the paper's recent articles and editorials are a result of L'Osservatore Romano having "decided to become relevant. God help us."
Peters, a lecturer at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and consultant on canonical issues in the US, wrote the Michael Jackson piece left "little sense that much of Jackson's work was sexually exploitative, at times quasi-obscene."
"If the Vatican wants a newspaper to provide a Catholic perspective on the world, fine. Item Number One on the to-do list, though, should be to find Catholics who can write and edit such a paper coherently. Anyone can lurch from gaff to gaff."
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