A Catholic school in Nashville has pulled Harry Potter books from its shelves following its transition to a new library over the summer. In an email shared with local news channel WTVF, Father Dan Reehil, pastor at St. Edward Catholic School, explained his reasons. He writes, “These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception,” going on to add that, if a person were to read the spells in the book, they could “risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text. He explained in the email that his decision to remove books from the shelves came after he consulted with “several exorcists,” both in the U.S. and Rome. Huh?
The Tennessean, which first reported the story, confirmed the veracity of the email with the superintendent of the Catholic diocesan schools, Rebecca Hammel. Hammel also told the paper that since the church doesn’t have an official stance on the books, the decision is up to the pastor and that he was within his rights to ban it.
While Harry Potter books have often been banned and challenged since they were published in 1997, this marks one of the first high-profile examples in a while. Since first being reported over the weekend, the story has made national news. But Father Reehil, while acting within his rights as the school’s pastor, isn’t exactly backed by the school community. A group of concerned parents also shared their own letter anonymously with WTVF, stating that while the story had set “social media abuzz,” it did not surprise them in the least.
Harry Potter books removed from St. Edward Catholic School due to 'curses and spells' https://t.co/EKUdN3oeFg
— Tennessean (@Tennessean) August 31, 2019
Me in front of the school in Tennessee that banned Harry Potter pic.twitter.com/xld2Vfl8Nd
— elatticus (@elatticus) September 3, 2019
The letter says that groups of parents have met with the diocese since 2017 to discuss concerns about Father Reehil, including what they describe as “psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse of the school children through his messages in and outside of the church, including in the confessional, that has resulted in children seeking professional counseling.” One example listed is that Reehil made “public assertions at school Mass that Lady Gaga made a pact with the devil for fame and suffers from fibromyalgia as a result.”
The parents only spoke out anonymously about what they say is Reehil’s ongoing “fanatical obsession with the devil and sin” because of fear of reprisal for their students, which they believe could include expulsion.
So far, the only response from the school has been to reaffirm the decision to remove the books from the library. In an email to parents, Hammel defended Reehil’s decision, noting that many members of the church, “even at higher levels,” have expressed concern about the books. As The Washington Post points out, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI himself spoke out against the books in 2003 when he was still a cardinal.
It seems that, as the series approaches a quarter-century on the shelves of kids around the world free from any conjured spirits or witch cults, the books still may never be free from being banned. But, hey, nothing makes a kid want to read like being told adults don’t want them to, right?