The Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, has given a warm review to "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,'' praising the film for its “clear line of demarcation between good and evil, making clear that good is right, and that in some cases this involves hard work and sacrifices.”
It must be said that much of the past Christian criticism over the Potter series has come from evangelical Protestants, who have focused on its positive representation of sorcery and witchcraft. But the Catholic Church has produced its share of Potter critics, including not only a Wakefield priest who pulled Potter books from his parish school library, but also the current pope, Benedict XVI, who in 2003 (before he was pope) wrote a supportive letter to a critic of the Potter series, declaring, "It is good that you enlighten us on the Harry Potter matter, for these are subtle, barely perceptible seductions, and precisely because of that they have a profound effect and can corrupt the Christian faith in souls even before it (faith) is able to properly grow."
There has also been plenty of support for the Potter series from Christian writers -- Catholic and Protestant -- who have focused, as the current Vatican review does, on the series's depiction of the battle of good versus evil, and on Harry's clear sense of morality. The Vatican paper itself even ran a pair of dueling analyses of Potter last year, although the critique, saying that the Potter books promote "a grave lie,'' got much of the attention.
The current enthusiastic review in the Vatican newspaper of the latest Potter film may represent a change in attitude toward popular culture -- the paper also gave a surprisingly sympathetic review to "Angels and Demons" earlier this year. Or it might simply reflect an overall change in tone, or even significance, of the newspaper, which was long viewed as a semi-official voice of the church, but which has come under increasing criticism from the Catholic right for its warm coverage of President Obama. The Catholic World News says the review is "continuing an editorial trend that has bewildered many readers and roused many critics.''
The Times of London has a field day with the Vatican rave, running a story with the headline, "Not so immoral after all,'' and listing other "religious conversions" beginning with the church's change in position about whether the earth revolves around the sun.
(Photo, courtesy of Warner Brothers, shows ominous clouds over London in a scene from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.")