Not so immoral after all: Vatican gives the latest Harry Potter absolution.

Rome, Italy - Once condemned by the Pope for undermining the soul of Christianity, Harry Potter has been forgiven.

In 2003, two years before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, then a Cardinal and head of Vatican doctrine, said that J. K. Rowling’s stories of the boy wizard threatened to corrupt an understanding of Christian faith among the impressionable young. “It is good that you explain the facts of Harry Potter,” he wrote six years ago to a critic of the books, who argued that they were anti-religious and encouraged the occult, “because this is a subtle seduction, which has deeply unnoticed and direct effects in undermining the soul of Christianity before it can really grow properly.”

Now, however, the Pope appears to have fallen under the Potter spell. The latest in the film series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is on general release in Britain today, and has won surprising praise from the Vatican newspaper. L’Osservatore Romano said yesterday that even though the Potter saga lacked what it called “a reference to the transcendent”, the latest film drew “a 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 also sided with Harry in his battle with You Know Who, arguing that the film promoted the values of friendship, altruism, and loyalty but made clear that “the search for immortality epitomised by Lord Voldemort” was wrong. It said it had struck the right balance in its treatment of teenage romance, with the child characters credibly “growing from adolescents into adults”.

This represents a remarkable U-turn by a paper that has previously attacked the series, saying that, although the books had narrative value, they held up witchcraft and the occult as positive ideals, unlike the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Lat year the paper argued that Harry was the wrong kind of hero and the stories, although compelling, were full of half truths, offering a view “full of deep mistakes and dangerous suggestions”. This time its reviewer praised the special effects in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth Potter film, which again stars Daniel Radcliffe as the young wizard.

The about-turn raises the question of whether the Vatican is reassessing its responses to modern popular culture — and might even forgive that other purveyor of dark, Satanic plotlines, Dan Brown.

When The Da Vinci Code — based on the premise that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and had children — came out as a film, it was attacked by Monsignor Tarcisio Bertone, then the Archbishop of Genoa and now the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Pope’s right-hand man, as “an offence against God”, a “phantasmagorical cocktail of inventions”, a “masonic plot” and a “potpourri of lies”.

The film version of Angels & Demons, the prequel to The Da Vinci Code, drew a similar response, with Gianni Gennari, a columnist for Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops, calling on Catholics to boycott it. Angels & Demons, he said, exploited the Church to swell takings at the box office and was part of a plot to undermine the Church.However, when it came to reviewing the film — which, in fact, offers a benign view of the Church as a force for good in the world — L’Osservatore Romano described it as “harmless entertainment which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity”.

It said that the film was simplistic and full of inaccuracies and stereotyped characters, but conceded that it was dynamic and that the digital reconstruction of St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel was magnificent. The film’s success should stimulate the Church to rethink the way it communicates its message, it concluded.

Religious conversions

Mass Until the 1960s, Catholic Mass was celebrated only in Latin, with priests facing away from congregants. The Second Vatican Council in 1962-65 brought approval of the sacrament in local languages. Campaigners are still trying to reverse the move

Abortion In 2003 the Church withdrew a threat to excommunicate the parents of a Nicaraguan girl aged 9 who had an abortion after being raped. 26,000 had signed a petition against the move

Limbo In traditional Catholic theology, limbo was a halfway point between Heaven and Hell, where those who had not been baptised — including babies — go after death. Limbo was finally abolished in 2007 by Pope John Paul II. Babies now enjoy eternal happiness after death, but not communion with God

Holocaust denier In January the Pope welcomed back into the church four excommunicated bishops, one of whom, Richard Williamson, had denied the historical truth of the Holocaust. After a public outcry the Pope ordered him to recant these beliefs before resuming his Church role

Galileo In 1992, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the Church had been wrong to condemn Galileo Galilei 359 years earlier for saying the Earth revolved around the Sun. But he added that 17th-century theologians had worked with available knowledge Knights Templar In 2007 the Vatican admitted that the Knights Templar were not heretics. The warrior order had been disbanded in 1307 and their leader, Jacques de Molay, burnt at the stake