By Charlie Johnston
Fr. Daniel Rehill, pastor of St. Edward Parish in Nashville, Tennessee, is at the heart of a tempest in a teapot that has reached international proportions. His offense? Banning the Harry Potter book series in his Parish school after consulting with exorcists in the US and the Vatican. (Disclosure – I know Fr. Rehill and deeply admire his faith, fidelity and orthodoxy. He is one of those Priests I pray for by name each day – and has been on that list for the last four years)
Long-time readers know I am a fan of the Potter series. I think it will ultimately be ranked in the pantheon of great Christian fantasy-based allegory, alongside “Lord of the Rings” and the “Narnia” series. Fantasy that describes some of its magical beings as witches or wizards always triggers fears that they are darkly occult. Both the Lord of the Rings and the Narnia stories – along with the innocuous but entertaining Wizard of Oz series – had their time in the box when they were denounced as a satanic plot. It is entirely proper and prudent that it should be so. Much fantasy fiction IS subtly or overtly anti-Christian and DOES glorify actual occult practice. Better an excess of vigilance than a deficit thereof.
The movie series that followed the Potter books complicated the issue. In the movies, the issue was reduced to a battle over who would successfully seize the wand of power. It was a betrayal of the fundamental point of the books. In the books, the wand of power was shown to be ultimately irrelevant. It was “deep magic” that ultimately provided victory to the good guys. What, then, is deep magic in the books’ terms? Self-sacrificial love for your family and friends. I suspect that the last movie was Hollywood’s revenge for what Rowling did in the last book of the series. Subtle Christian themes that had run through the series were made completely overt in the last book, one of the most anticipated in publishing history. Hollywood could not abide that – the idea that self-sacrificial love of family and fellows is the most powerful “deep magic” in the universe, before which all schemes for power must ultimately collapse.
I am glad of this controversy as it allows me to expand a little on the proper exercise of authority and the proper practice of obedience. We worry far too much about who is right and, thus, should get their way in these perilous times. It would be far more productive to consider the duty of each of us, whether we exercise it legitimately, and whether we exercise prudence in coming to a conclusion.
Fr. Rehill has the responsibility to protect the children in his Parish school’s care. He also has the legitimate authority to make decisions to further that aim. The Church makes no comment on the series. Some like it, some don’t (and do not think those who like it are mainly dissidents; Cardinal George Pell has a take on the series almost identical to mine). Since he has not read the series, Rehill did exactly what a good leader should do: he consulted with people he trusted to get more information before making a decision. He took counsel.
Fr. Rehill said some exorcists told him the spells in the book are real. I don’t doubt they did. An exorcist Priest I met, horrified to find I admire the series, told me the same thing. I asked him for a specific example. He told me there over 60. I told him I didn’t need 60; a couple specific examples would suffice. He stared at me in irritation until I added, “You haven’t actually read the books, have you?” He walked away without another word.
I know something about real spells. I have been asked to quietly advise better authorities than me in a few dicey situations. The “spells” in the books are invariably one or two words of comically pidgin Latin. They don’t even vaguely resemble actual occult spells. If someone of real authority were ever to correct me with actual factual information, I would accept it. But I demand verifiable information. When God commands us not to bear false witness, that doesn’t just mean for our friends, but for all. So far, I have not been able to get any serious criticism, because all the people who have argued with me against the series have not actually read it -and get a lot of facts about it dead wrong. It has caused my respect for at least one exorcist to tank badly. (I should note that I have a completely different attitude for those who have not read it and are uncomfortable with the concept – and those who have not read it but pretend they have in order to denounce it. The former I respect; the latter I am offended by).
A Parish Priest must consider the best information he can get. Apart from the objective merit or lack thereof in the series, he must also consider the confidence of the faithful he is responsible for. If even exorcists are condemning it (without reading it), to have it on the shelves would cause many parents to wonder what criteria he is using and about the reliability of other materials on the shelves. Fr. Rehill has not endeavored to forbid private ownership of the books. If the series has the merit I attribute to it, time will prove it just as it did with Lord of the Rings and Narnia. If it has decisive flaws I have missed, it will fade away of its own accord in time. While there is doubt and controversy, nothing is lost by being cautious. Even with my attitude, I would not carry it on the shelves of a Catholic school at this time.
The larger issue though is the legitimacy of authority and the burden of responsibility. If everything is just a contest to prove who has got it right first, our foundation of order is a
perilous thing. On two occasions, my spiritual directors advised me not to read particular books – both of which were written by saints. They had good reasons (none of which were explained to me until after the bans were lifted) and I obeyed. Once, I ghost-wrote a very high-profile piece for an official that was very widely read. In the body of the piece, there was an issue on which I completely disagreed with the official about. Yet I made the very best case for the position he held that I could. I have a great respect for people who take the burden of responsibility for others and live it with fidelity. Even when I disagree with them, I endeavor to behave so that the issue rises or falls on its own merit and honor their fidelity by supporting them. A good man will change if it is ultimately called for. A bad man would only get enraged at contradiction. I believe in honoring, upholding and supporting the authority of those who take their responsibility seriously.
That is why, though we disagree on the merits, I stand fully with Fr. Rehill in his decision.
You know he is getting a lot of grief from the smarmy set. Maybe drop him a card thanking him for his fidelity to his duty to those he is responsible for. You can send a note to:
Rev. Daniel Rehill
St. Edward Church
188 Thompson Ln.
Nashville, TN 37210
The preliminary hearing in Planned Parenthood’s criminal case against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt began Tuesday. Oops…I mean the California Atty. Gen’s criminal case against Daleiden. It will continue throughout the week and, perhaps, into next week. LifeSite News is providing the most consistent coverage of the hearings.
Finally, Daleiden is getting to cross examine abortion doctors and Planned Parenthood executives. Don’t be surprised if before all is said and done here, it comes out that Kamala Harris – then the Atty. Gen. (AG)of California – and now her successor, Xavier Becerra, colluded with Planned Parenthood (PP) to gin up charges against the pro-life activists. It is the same sort of scenario that tanked a prosecutorial effort in Houston, Texas a few years ago. Once again, the powers that be manufacture crimes to charge Christians and conservatives with while ignoring actual heinous crimes routinely committed by leftists. If the president and justice department do not act forcefully within the next few months to put an end to the two-tiered justice system that now reigns in America, we have some very ugly times ahead.
I encourage you to watch this hearing closely. It is starting to get the attention of some broader-based news sites, though nothing in the establishment media. It is not the trial, which would adjudicate guilt. Rather, this determines what, if any charges, the prosecution will be allowed to go forward with. I worry that both the AG and PP are trying to find a way to tank this before it goes to trial. With each day of testimony, both entities are digging themselves deeper under oath. I want as much testimony as we can get. A dismissal, at this stage, while it would make Daleiden’s life easier, is not what we want in order to lock in the criminality of the abortion industry and its eager political partners. This is the beginning of the fall of the culture of death. You are witnessing history in the making. For daily reports, go to LifeSite News. If anything really striking and consequential comes up, I will let you know.
I hit the road again next week. Most of my stops will be out west, but I begin in the Midwest with a presentation in St. Paul, Minnesota. It will be at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15 at the Shoreview Library, 4560 N. Victoria St. For information, contact Kris at email@example.com.
For information on scheduling a visit, contact Mary Lapchak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To keep abreast of the regularly updated schedule, click on the Menu icon at the top left of the site, then select “Travels With Charlie” from the dropdown menu that appears.