Harry Potter Resources for Catholics

Below you'll find resources mentioned in our panel discussion at the 37th Annual Chesterton Conference (Kansas City, KS) on August 2, 2019 on "Catholics and Harry Potter".

The panelists included:

Brandon Vogt, author and content director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries

Nancy Carpentier Brown, author of The Mystery of Harry Potter: A Catholic Family Guide

Julian Ahlquist, founding faculty member of Chesterton Academy




  • A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind by Michael O’Brien
  • Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture by Michael O’Brien
    • Book description: “Delineates authentic Christian fantasy literature from its counterfeits. Now in Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture, he contrasts Potter-world with C.S. Lewis's Narnia and with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and specifically Harry with Frodo...The book goes beyond Potter, however, to address other bestselling series such as Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass.”




Panel Discussion Outline


  • Introduce panelists
  • Harry Potter basics
    • 7 books written by J.K. Rowling
    • 8 films, third highest-grossing film series of all times
    • 500 million copies sold, best selling book series in history

Personal Experiences with Harry Potter

  • Nancy shares
  • Julian shares
  • Brandon shares

Why Should Catholics Read Harry Potter?

Internal reasons

  • Encourages virtues that are in short supply among children today
    • Courage, friendship, fidelity, self-sacrifice, fighting sinful inclinations, etc.
    • Rowling said that, to her, the moral significance of the tales seems "blindingly obvious". The key for her was "the choice between what is right and what is easy."
  • Offers important reflections on important, but little-discussed topics that children deal with
    • Death, loss of parents, identity (muggle vs, wizard, created vs. invented), choices and free will, and, most importantly, the power of love
  • Re-enchants our flattened out, secular world
    • Presents a major blow to materialism by inculcating belief in transcendent virtues and powers.
    • John Granger: “Harry’s Christian content and the fact that he takes us out of our materialist prisons are what keep his readers coming back again and again...People long to be part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil, which is why Harry Potter is so popular with both children and adults.”
  • Deeply Biblical and loaded with Christian symbolism
    • J.K. Rowling: “Harry Potter books have always, in fact, dealt explicitly with religious themes and questions" and that she did not reveal its Christian parallels in the beginning because doing so would have "give[n] too much away to fans who might then see the parallels.”
    • John Granger: in every book Harry is saved or aided by a magical entity that has traditionally been associated with or used to symbolize Christ--the Philosopher’s stone, a phoenix, a stag, unicorns, hippogriffs, etc.
    • The salvific power of love, flowing through Harry’s bond from his parents’ sacrificial death
    • Death Eaters vs. Life Eaters (Eucharist)
    • Bible verses on tombstones
      • Dumbledores (Kendra + Ariana) - “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt 6:21)
      • Potter parents - “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:26)
      • J.K. Rowling: These bible verses “epitomize the whole series.”
    • Nancy Brown: “I believe J.K. Rowling has pulled off the biggest coup of our age... She has handed the world the biggest Christian tale of our times, disguised in a story about witches and wizards.”
  • Very pro-life, positive depictions of family life
    • Weasleys (poor family with seven children); no divorced marriages in series--all characters have/had a mom and dad; life vigorously protected by good characters, even at great cost.
    • The series ends with all the main characters getting married and having kids. That's the conclusion of the story, which is significant.

External reasons

  • Produced a huge surge in reading among children
    • Children who read Harry Potter end up reading more books and longer books after finishing the series.
  • Harry Potter is the “shared text” of our generation
    • Millennials literally grew up with Harry and friends.
    • See Religion News Service article. We should be familiar with this text and its characters to have cultural dialogue (ala Paul on Areopagus).

Answering the Critics

  • Harry Potter promotes occult magic.”
    • We must distinguish “fantasy” (light) magic from “occult” (dark) magic, and incantational magic vs. invocational magic.
    • See John Granger's books especially on this point.
  • “The books glorify evil.”
    • Critics claim that the children in the series set bad moral examples: they lie, they’re mean to fellow students, they disrespect the authority of adults, etc.
    • But these behaviors are never rewarded, and the children advance in virtue throughout the series. For example, Harry is mean and vindictive toward his enemies in the first couple books, but by the end, he expresses compassion toward them. (This is also why it's inadequate to say, "I read the book first book or two, but then stopped, and here's what I think about Harry...")
  • “Pope Benedict XVI denounced the Harry Potter books.”
    • While in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI) apparently sent a letter to a lady who wrote a book critical of the Harry Potter series. This was sensationalized by LifeSiteNews: “Pope Opposes Harry Potter Novels - Signed Letters from Cardinal Ratzinger”
    • However, it's simply not true that the Pope opposed the series. The LifeSiteNews article is filled with inaccuracies and innuendo. For the true story, read Steven Greydanus' article, "Harry Potter vs. the Pope".
  • “Several Catholic exorcists have criticized the books.”
    • The series has been praised in the official Vatican newspapers and by the USCCB. Some Catholic exorcists have even said publicly that the books are not intrinsically problematic. But it is true that some other notable exorcists have spoken out against the books. The two most popular are:
      • Fr. Gabriele Amorth, described as "the Vatican's chief exorcist," although no such title actually exists. In 2002, he said, “Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil.” It's unclear whether Fr. Amorth ever read the books, however, as he never refers to specifics. It seems his opinion is based on hearsay.
      • Fr. Chad Rippenger is a popular traditionalist Catholic and exorcist. He has a  YouTube clip (4 min, 25k views) criticizing the series. His case is breathtakingly bad, but to give him the benefit of the doubt, it seems he was answering a question in a Q&A after a talk, so these remarks were likely spontaneous and unprepared. Still, here is what he says in the clip (and for more analysis, listen to Trent Horn's recent podcast episode on this clip from Fr. Rippenger.)
        • Before his criticism, Fr. Rippenger first admits that he hasn't read the series, only the first book​:
          • “Someone asked me to review the [series], and I read the first book, and I’ll be quite frank with you: I went through a Great Books program, and that literature [Harry Potter] is total garbage. It’s not even worth reading on a literary level...It’s a piece of junk literature. How that lady made over a billion dollars on the enterprise is beyond my comprehension.”
        • “J.K. Rowling went to witch school before she wrote the books”
          • (This is false and stems from an article at The Onion, a satirical news site.)
        • “She has denied she is a witch, but you walk like one, you quack like one, you write books like one...soooooo….”
          • (Just bad logic.)
        • “The spells in the book are actual spells because witches tell us they are real.”
          • (Again, this is false. The spells are made up Latin words, and we have testimony from several actual witches saying the spells in Harry Potter are not real.)
        • “There’s a woman in Spain who decided to try the spell for fire in the books, and it burned her house to the ground.”
          • (Read the actual story. The poor lady boiled alcohol, oil, and toothpaste on an open flame which led to a house fire. It was negligence that caused it, not a spell.)
        • “One exorcist told me that 60% of the names in Harry Potter are actual names of demons that exorcists have booted out of people.”
          • (No citation of the specific exorcist, and no mention of which names, or proof that a calculation had actual be done to arrive at that precise 60% number. No reason to think this is true.)
        • “An exorcist friend of mine has had to exorcise three children just for reading the books.”
          • (Perhaps, but again, no specifics or proof. And even if true, it doesn't mean the books are intrinsically bad. Perhaps those children were already predisposed to dark powers. Tens of millions of children have read the books without problem. Three possible counterexamples doesn't outweigh that fact.)
        • “I had a case, a possession...of a person who was possessed by five demons who claimed they were the demons who inspired J.K. Rowling to write Harry Potter.”
          • (We only have Fr. Rippenger's word for this, and it's not falsifiable. Combined with the fact that demons purportedly told her to write a book filled with Christian symbolism and virtue, it's hard to take this claim seriously.)
        • “All exorcists who are worth their weight [say to avoid the books]. There’s only one who says they’re ok, but there’s something wrong with that guy. All the exorcists that I know that are experienced are very clear: stay away from [the books].”
          • (Very poor logic. He's claiming exorcists are only "worth their weight" if they agree with Fr. Rippenger's views on the books, and if they disagree, "there's something wrong with that guy." This isn't a real argument.)
        • “There’s a glorification of certain disorders, very subtle, for example that it’s okay to lie. It’s okay to do evil things from time to time to get a good a thing to come as a result of it."
          • (This isn't true. The books do not endorse lying. When the main characters lie, they always face serious consequences and inevitably realize that telling the truth would have made things better. And the books don't promote consequentialism either. But Fr. Rippenger doesn't refer to a specific examples, so it's impossible to know what he's referring to, but he can't do that since he hasn't even read all the books, by his own admission.)
  • “J.K. Rowling said Dumbledore is gay.”
    • However, she also has affirmed that Dumbledore lived his entire adult life as a celibate. Thus Dumbledore serves as a model for how the Catholic Church calls same-sex attracted persons to live. He still has deeply loving relationships and he's not lonely or oppressed, despite not having a sexual relationship. What other same-sex attracted figure in current popular fiction better models this ideal, of a celibate, same-sex attracted person?

Q&A with Attendees

  • Why allow kids to Harry Potter when they could be reading so many better books instead?
    • First, this presumes Harry Potter is a poorly written book, not in the realm of "classics." Some people would disagree. Second, this argument applies equally well to every book in the world except the #1 best overall book, whatever you think that is. So just as we don't disqualify other books for this reason, we shouldn't disqualify Harry Potter.
  • How do you handle these books as a parent?
    • At the end of the day, the parent should be the ultimate decider of whether the Harry Potter books would be good for their child--not random exorcists, not online critics, not even other parents. 
    • That said, no child has to read Harry Potter. Parents should feel no guilt if they decide the series would do more harm than good, or if they'd prefer their children read other books.
  • At what ages should you introduce them? How to read and discuss them with children?
    • If parents are concerned about the books, they should definitely read them first, before allowing their kids to read them.
    • As for the kids, Brandon recommends around 8-10 years old for the first couple books (though his family has read them aloud with smaller siblings listening in), then 12+ for the last several.
      • Another idea is to allow children to read them as they age with the characters. Harry turns 11 during the first book, 12 in the second, etc. Each book covers a year. Perhaps have your child read the first one at age 11, the second one at age 12, etc.
    • Read the books aloud together, so you can stop and talk about different events and exchanges.