For the second weekend in a row, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 ” – the seventh film in author J.K. Rowling’s fantastically successful series about young wizards – sits atop the box office charts, smashing ticket-sale records as the franchise only gains steam en route to its finale.

But the wild success of “Pottermania” has also brought back critics of the franchise who question – or even outright condemn – the movies’ spiritual ramifications.

“Harry Potter and these ‘Twilight’ vampires glamorize the power of evil,” argues author and Roman Catholic Priest Thomas J. Euteneuers.

A practicing exorcist, Euteneuers told Deal W. Hudson of InsideCatholic that he intended his new book, “Exorcism and the Church Militant,” as a warning on how the Harry Potter series and Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” movies about teenage vampires, for example, desensitize children to “the dark world” of witchcraft.

Euteneuers says the wild popularity of the Potter films encourages children and teens to be curious, even to dabble in occult activity, trying their own hands at magic spells, tarot cards, Ouji boards and the like. And once kids start “playing around” with the occult, he says, it “opens a window” for Satan and his minions.

“Demons do not discriminate between intentions – no matter how innocent – and children lose the clear distinction between good and evil,” Euteneuers says. “This has lead to many, many cases of [demon] possession among young people.”

In fact, a Barna Research Group study conducted in 2002 discovered that 12 percent of teens surveyed said they were more interested in witchcraft as a result of watching the Potter films and reading Rowling’s books.

But does that additional interest really turn into demonic possession?

Euteneuers is far from the first to question the effects of Pottermania, as the series has been haunted by criticism and calls for caution since Harry Potter first became popular more than a decade ago.

As WND reported, the Vatican’s top exorcist has condemned J.K. Rowling’s best-selling “Harry Potter” series as leading children to the devil.

Rev. Gabriele Amorth said: “You start off with Harry Potter, who comes across as a likeable wizard, but you end up with the devil. There is no doubt that the signature of the Prince of Darkness is clearly within these books.”

Amorth made similar comments back in 2002 and suggested children are drawn to the occult by the novels.

“By reading Harry Potter, a young child will be drawn into magic and from there it is a simple step to satanism and the devil,” he said.

Harry Potter’s creator, J.K. Rowling, has repeatedly denied that her books lead children to the occult.

“I absolutely did not start writing these books to encourage any child into witchcraft,” Rowling told CNN in a 1999 interview. “I’m laughing slightly because to me, the idea is absurd. I have met thousands of children and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.'”

Nonetheless, the debate continues over how the wizards of Potter’s world affect children of this world.

“My greatest concern is that godly fear that protects mankind from dabbling in the spirit world is being taken away from children who read these Harry Potter books,” says filmmaker and occult expert Caryl Matrisciana, producer of the documentary “Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged.”

“The terrors and horrors of black magic and occult practice, rituals, ceremonies and demon possession are being normalized,” she said. “Alarmingly, the Potter books are engaging in pagan discipleship, disciplining our children to spiritual alternatives and also turning them away from the biblical principles and God’s protection.”

Others argue that the Potter series is merely harmless fantasy.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who grew up without fairies, magic and angels in their imaginary world,” Rev. Peter Fleetwood, a former official of the Pontifical Council for Culture, says. “They aren’t bad. They aren’t serving as an anti-Christian ideology.”

Jack Brock, pastor of Christ Community Church in Alamogordo, N.M., known for actually burning Rowling’s books in 2001, disagrees, saying there’s an important distinction between Harry Potter and the witches in “Snow White” or “The Wizard of Oz.”

“The difference is that in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ Snow White is the heroine,” Brock said. “In ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ Dorothy is the heroine and the wizard turned out to be a con man. … In Harry Potter, Harry is the hero and he is a witch. That is a big crossover there in their approach.”

In his review of the fourth Harry Potter movie, film critic and chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission Dr. Ted Baehr agreed:

“Although it may be argued that the Harry Potter books and movies are just fantasy stories having nothing to do with reality, they still entice impressionable young children, teenagers and even adults with an elitist worldview full of occultism and paganism,” he writes. “This fact is clearly demonstrated by the movie’s story, where Harry not only uses witchcraft to defeat evil and to gain happiness, but also consults with the ghosts of his dead parents. This fact is further demonstrated by the publisher and film studio websites for young fans of the series, where children can experiment with witchcraft and even worship pagan Gods. If Harry Potter is so innocent, why do these evil, heretical websites exist?”

With only one movie left to be released in the 8-film franchise, a movie in which – spoiler alert! – young Harry will follow a path very similar to the one followed by Jesus of Nazareth nearly 2,000 years ago, the debate over Harry Potter’s religious ramifications is apparently far from over.

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