Bulgarian church slams Harry Potter witchcraft

SOFIA, March 1 - The hugely popular Harry Potter books are ''spiritual AIDS'' for readers, diminishing their immune system against black magic and making them more open to evil, a priest backed by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church said on Friday.

Father Stefan Stefanov from the Saint Nicholas Christian Orthodox church in Bulgaria's northern city of Rousse said his service on Sunday would denounce British author J.K.Rowling's best-selling novels about the young wizard. ''Those books make children believe witchcraft is something innocent, existing only in literature, which is not the case. They diminish readers' force to react against black magic and make them interested in evil deeds,'' Father Stefan told Reuters.

An official from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church's ruling Synod said it fully backed father Stefan's position.

Stefanov, a former member of parliament, plans to lecture in schools against the books about Harry, an orphan boy who discovers he is a wizard.

But in Bulgaria, too, the books are best-sellers and the movie ''Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'' is a smash hit since it opened three weeks ago.

Harry Potter has also come under fire in a few communities in the United States for supposedly encouraging devilish thoughts among the young.

Rowling dismisses such criticism as absurd, saying that not a single child in her experience has expressed the desire to become a witch after reading the books.