Why Did The Vatican Review Harry Potter?

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Like millions this weekend, I eagerly saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I'm ready to give it rave reviews and apparently I'm not the only one. The Vatican also gave the movie two thumbs up, as it were. The Pope has been down on the boy wizard in the past, saying that the series has the power to "corrupt the Christian faith in souls even before it could properly grow." But a review in the Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, praised the new movie for showing the lines of good and evil and the message that the fight for good requires sacrifice. This begs an important question, though: since when does the Vatican's newspaper run movie reviews?

As it turns out, the Catholic Church has been weighing in on Hollywood for decades. There's even a special office for films and broadcasting in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They review movies to help parents and adults trying to find morally acceptable films and have created their own rating scale, which ranges from A-I (general audience) to O (morally offensive). Like any critic worth their keep, the film office publishes an annual top 10 list, though it's a little more reliant on inspiration and deep messages than it is on entertainment. Last year's list featured forgettable titles like "The Express," "Flash of Genius" and "Henry Poole is Here"

But the Vatican itself does publish full-length reviews, usually for movies with notable religious or morally-questionable content. So, you're probably not going to find anything on the new Transformers movie. But recently, L'Osservatore Romano has chimed in on titles like "The Da Vinci Code," sequel "Angels and Demons," The Golden Compass" and, of course, "The Passion of the Christ." It hits out at films that could criticize the church ("The Da Vinci Code" predictably didn't do too well). They even criticized "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" for rewriting history and making 16th Century England seem more secular.

But the Pope has actually declared his praise for some films without a stake in religion. In 1995, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of cinema, the Vatican released their list of the 45 best movies, grouped by whether they advanced religion, values or art. The list contains predictably morally-laden titles like "It's A Wonderful Life," "Ben Hur" and "Schindler's List," but the art category really goes out on a limb. That list includes "Nosferatu," "The Wizard of Oz," "Stagecoach" and "Fantasia." Even "2001: A Space Odyssey" makes the cut, showing just how good the Pope's taste can be.

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July 21, 2009 - 7:15am
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