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Man from ministry bans Potter

WAKEFIELD - The summer reading feats of Lynne Bimmler's sixth-grade class are proudly chronicled on the St. Joseph's School website.

"The sixth grade reads an average of 7.5 books each with many students in double digits," says a note on the class page. "Of course, Harry Potter was a popular choice."

But last month, students found that their favorite series had "disapparated" from the school library, after St. Joseph's pastor, the Rev. Ron Barker, removed the books, declaring that the themes of witchcraft and sorcery were inappropriate for a Catholic school.

"He said that he thought most children were strong enough to resist the temptation," said one mother who asked that her name not be used because she did not want her family to be singled out. "But he said it's his job to protect the weak and the strong."

The removal at St. Joseph's is the first reported instance that the wildly popular series has been banned in the Bay State, according to the American Library Association. But British author J.K. Rowling's series, which many educators credit with inspiring a generation of children to pick up a book, has been as controversial as it has been popular. Groups in at least 17 other states have tried to ban the books since the first one was published in 1998, prompting the library association last year to name the Harry Potter collection "the most challenged books of the 21st century."

"Most of the controversy is centered around the witchcraft and occult themes," said Deborah Caldwell, who directs the office of intellectual freedom for the association. "But there are others who say the books model disrespect for adults."

Barker declined an interview yesterday, saying through his secretary that the removal of the books "is an in-house situation."

The decision has angered some parents at St. Joseph's.

"I'm upset it was done in the first place, and I'm upset it was done without talking to anyone about it," said Rick Hudson, who has sent all three of his children to the school.

But not everyone interviewed at the school yesterday was against the banning.

"I think the spirit of what he's doing is the right thing," said a mother who asked that her name not be used. "I believe he is sincerely interested in the children's well-being."

"We send our kids here for a reason," she added.

The Catholic Church has no formal policy on the books.

This summer, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops rated the most recent movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," appropriate for adults and adolescents.

Though Massachusetts is thought of as a bastion of liberal thought today, the state has a long history of banning books. In 1650, William Pynchon's "The Meritorius Price of Our Redemption" was publicly burned because colony leaders considered it too critical of the Puritan religion. In 1878, the New England Watch and Ward Society was founded to ban books, fight pornography, and "watch and ward off evildoers."

At the height of the society's power, in the 1920s and 1930s, controversial books at the Boston Public Library were kept in a locked room, and the police vice squad arrested anyone selling works considered offensive.

As a result, Boston led the nation in censorship based on moral grounds. Later, publishers actively sought to have books "banned in Boston" to increase sales in the rest of the country.

Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at deluzuriaga@globe.com.

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