JKR Invited To Vatican?

From a link at HogsHead Tavern: Q&A at University College Dublin

“About Pope Benedict complaining ? (laughter) Well. (more laughter) If it is the case, I’ll tell you what — see, you may know more than I do on this, I read that he had, when a cardinal I think, responded favourably to a woman who had written to him about the Harry Potter books being dangerous, but that’s as much as I know. If he has since said more than that I don’t know about it. Has he said more than that that I don’t know about ? I don’t know, you know, I was invited to a kind of symposium at the Vatican. It took a very circuitous route to get to me and I’m afraid to say it was to short a notice by the time I got the letter. So someone there is pretty open-minded about Harry Potter. I’ve always felt and I continue to feel that… Firstly, I’m vehemently anti-censorship. I think that it’s foolish and misguided to ban books. Secondly, I feel that… Now that the seventh book has been published I can say very openly, I think these are very moral books. They don’t promote a specifically Christian agenda, and I think that that, coupled with the fact that clearly they deal with folkloric mythical themes many people see as a cult, which I do not, but many do… but that has always antagonized a certain brand of Christians. And I’m fine with that (laughing). I am fine with that. I detest fundamentalism in any religion and that includes my own religion. As far as the Pope goes, I truthfully don’t know what his current opinion on Harry Potter is. So I can’t really ****.”

Your thoughts?


  1. Travis Prinzi says

    I think when you pair the statement that they “don’t promote a specifically Christian agenda” with the “missed opportunity” statement we talked about recently, you get this: They’re not books intended to evangelize for Christianity, but they do set forth a sort of social vision that is informed by Jesus and has some things in common with other religions also (and therefore not specifically Christian, as in only Christian).

  2. Great post, Travis — and thanks for the heads up on this Glasgow interview.

    I agree that when she says her books “don’t promote a specifically Christian agenda” she means “not an exclusively Christian agenda.” This would jibe with her comments about Harry Potter being the “biggest missed opportunity” for Christians, especially if I am right in thinking her alchemical symbolism and other relatively esoteric literary touches are consequent to study of perennialist writers like Titus Burckhardt and Frithjof Schuon.

    For an introduction to, or, better, for a thinking person’s guide to a non-exclusive but comprehensive Christian faith (a la Schuon) that may be the backdrop of Ms. Rowling’s disdain for fideism, Prof. James Cutsinger’s “The Mystery of the Two Natures” is invaluable and worth the effort it requires. Ms. Rowling’s discomfort with “fundamentalism in any religion and that includes my own religion” may just be impatience with an exclusivism that she thinks is contrary to traditional Christian belief.

  3. Sayf Bowlin says

    Very interesting. JKR is right in that most of her agenda is a part of what Catholics call the natural law that is written on men’s hearts, so, although it doesn’t only apply to Christians, it certainly has its fullness there.

    I believe she is wrong that the themes that are considered occult are the objections but the actual practices of magic in the books that receive the most objections.

    I have no doubts that she could have been invited to a symposium at the Vatican. I suspect the Pope has not himself read the books and his comments as a Cardinal do not act as a condemnation of the books. One needs to be careful about attributing positions to the Catholic Church when the statement includes “a Vatican official” – there is a big difference between what a single official (including the diocesan exorcist, Fr. Amorth) and THE Church says.

    Just my immediate reaction…

  4. Arabella Figg says

    Great connection, Travis. I think you’ve both distilled and expanded Rowling’s various statements in a concise and sensible way. I’m keeping your statement, a very worthy contribution. Thanks!

    I think we could also say that Rowling draws upon all our best mythic and, specifically, Christian, themes and symbolism to tell a sweeping story of hope, truth, and love beyond human power alone that can defeat and redeem evil , one which can have meaning for everyone.

    Kitties don’t care about meaning unless it’s the soft, chewy center in a treat…

  5. Travis Prinzi says

    John, thanks for the response. I do think you’re on the mark about where Rowling gets her alchemy from. She studied alchemy in order to set the boundaries of her magical world, right? That doesn’t sound like an exercise in Jungian psychology to me.

    Interesting stuff from Cutsinger. While I have a difficult time with his arguments, particularly the lean towards universalism, I’m rather certain that’s precisely the kind of Christianity Rowling would espouse. I’ll give those two articles more thought when I get a little more time.

  6. Nancy C Brown says

    I am very encouraged to read this note. Because mainly, I want the door to the Vatican to be open to Rowling. And I hope this encourages her to, well, be open to the Church, as well.

    I don’t know what event she was invited to, but I am so glad to hear that she was invited. I think this is important, and I am glad to hear about it. Thanks for posting.

  7. Chosen66 says

    “They don’t promote a specifically Christian agenda, and I think that that, coupled with the fact that clearly they deal with folkloric mythical themes many people see as a cult, which I do not, but many do…”

    I think the “a cult” might actually be wrongly transcribed in the Q/A. It makes more sense for it to read “occult.”

    “Ms. Rowling’s discomfort with “fundamentalism in any religion and that includes my own religion” may just be impatience with an exclusivism that is contrary to traditional Christian belief.”

    John, I found this sentence confusing. Are you saying that it is her impatience with exclusivism which is contrary to traditional Christian belief; or that she believes exclusivism is contrary to traditional Christian belief?

  8. I mean “that she believes exclusivism is contrary to traditional Christian belief.” I changed the original to make that clear.

    Both the Cutsinger articles explain this — though his Perennial approach is esoteric ecumenism, not universalism. I don’t think any of the Perennialists believe “all will be saved;” they certainly don’t think all religions are the same or that any denomination that is not “orthodox” within a tradition is a valid spiritual way.

    Great catch, too, Adam, on “a cult” versus “occult.” Big difference!

    Wonderful to see you here, Sayf, and to read your comments on natural law (that I missed when responding to Travis). Indeed, if I’m right about Ms. Rowling and the Perennialists, her thinking about religion is drawn much more from natural theology and metaphysics than sacred or systematic theology of any kind.

  9. Travis Prinzi says

    I knew I was choosing the wrong word when I wrote “universalism,” but I had just spent two and a half hours on yard work, and my brain was as tired as my body.

    In any case, whether she’s done deep thinking about it or not, I’d agree – the Perennial approach is the one she’d take.

    In some ways, I suspect her faith is somewhat ‘Lengle-esque, though I need to work that idea out a bit more. And L’Engle certainly spent more time specifically commenting on her faith and its influence on her work. I get the impression Rowling will continue this drawing-close, then backing-away dance around her faith’s impact on her work. But I’d love to see what would happen if she were asked to write something along the lines of L’Engle’s Walking on Water. I’ve argued extensively in the work I’m doing for the book that Rowling gives sufficient evidence that she “serves the work.”

  10. Chosen66 says

    John, glad that was clarified. The original comment made it sound like you agreed wholesale with Rowling on that point!

    Cutsinger is indeed an interesting read, and you’re right, it isn’t universalism, but it certainly seems rooted in a gnostic or mystic Christian tradition, and ever-faithful wiki notes too a Platonic/neo-Platonic philosophy and apparently seems to have influenced Aquinas to some degree or another (only ever read his Summa Theologica though).

    Travis, it’s odd you would mention L’Engle, as I just started re-reading Walking on Water this week.

  11. Arabella Figg says

    I agree. Rowling is a L’Engle-esque author. Some of Connie Willis’ writing would fit in this “category” as well.

    Kitties refuse “cat”egories…

  12. I really hope JK Rowling is aware of statements made by Monsignor Peter Fleetwood, of the Pontifical Council for Culture, back in 2003. This is a man charged by the Vatican with discerning matters of popular culture and literature, and he could not have been more clear in his public defense of the Harry Potter books and their author. Here are some quotes from Father Fleetwood:

    “I don’t see any, any problems in the Harry Potter series.”

    “I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who grew up without fairies, magic and angels in their imaginary world. They aren’t bad. They aren’t serving as a banner for an anti-Christian ideology.”

    “If I have understood well the intentions of Harry Potter’s author, they help children to see the difference between good and evil. And she is very clear on this.”

    Father Fleetwood also stated that JK Rowling is “Christian by conviction, is Christian in her mode of living, even in her way of writing.”

    I found these quotes in an article in the archives of the UK Guardian on-line, dated Feb. 4, 2003, and they can be found in a lot of other sources as well. I certainly hope these comments have been brought to Ms. Rowling’s attention. The Church is not her enemy.

  13. Sayf Bowlin says


    Thank you for those excellent quotes. Even though I’ll do my own research, any URLs or documents you can send me that have those quotes, I would appreciate it. el_sayf@yahoo.com

    As a Catholic at least, I have to live the delicate balance between the two extremes of only listening to my spiritual fathers in Rome when they speak on matters of faith and morals infallibly and taking every opinion as dogma. The virtue, as Aristotle would say, is somewhere in the middle. I won’t disregard opinions from the Vatican just because they’re opinions, but for the same reason I’ll take them with a grain of salt.

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