Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Harry Potter and the Code of Canon Law

Most of you know (or have probably guessed) that I’m a practicing Catholic, studying theology, and hope to find gainful employment harvesting the souls of the unwashed masses educating people in the Catholic Church. But as an intellectually honest Catholic, I admit that I don’t always suck down the slurry of “truth” cooked up by every person who deigns himself (or herself, but let’s be honest, it’s usually himself) an Authoritative Person™. My first real memory of this happened when I was fifteen, at a super famous brand of Catholic youth conference. The Authoritative Person™ was supposed to be talking about distractions that take away from your spiritual life. Instead, he spent a half hour talking about how Harry Potter is evil. 

People who actually believe this clearly have never read the books… or know anything about Satanism.

People who actually believe this clearly have never read the books… or know anything about Satanism.

Naturally, my young, naïve self was shocked, scandalized, appalled… you get the idea. How dare he say that something that brought so much love and joy to my life was evil? Harry is a Christ figure, can’t he see that? So from then on I made it a personal crusade to show Catholics how Harry Potter is the opposite of harmful to our religious beliefs. Fast forward to today, where I’ve just finished my last class for my Master’s in Theology (barring a few papers, of course). This class was on canon law, and I’m going to show you how Harry Potter can explain one of the more potentially-confusing bits of canon law.

Roughly speaking, canon law is the collection of rules of governance in the Catholic Church. The list of these rules is called the Code of Canon Law (oh, the “Keep to the Code” pirate puns I could make…). Most of the code is comprised of “church law” as opposed to “divine law”. Church law is changeable, and covers things like “Priests must be celibate,” while divine law doesn’t change, and covers things like “Priesthood: it’s a thing that exists.” Every baptized Catholic is subject to the code, which means that people who want to convert, or people who want to marry a baptized Catholic, have to deal with the code in one way or another. Even if you no longer practice the faith, or even if you’ve written a letter to your bishop to formally defect from the Church, we still think you’re subject to some of the rules. Yes, we’re that clingy.

Grandma Mary is not amused.

The reason why this is important is that a lot of people are baptized Catholic, or might want to marry a baptized Catholic, and maybe your staunchly Irish Catholic Grandma Mary is demanding that you get married in the Catholic Church or she’ll disinherit you, or something to that effect. So to please Grandma Mary, you start looking around for a Catholic priest in a Catholic church that will consent to preside over the ceremony. But there’s a problem: every priest says no. What gives? You’re a heterosexual couple of legal marrying age with no prior marriages; shouldn’t they just be happy that you want to get married in a church at all?

So we turn to Canon Law. The Code states that you have a right, as a baptized Catholic, to the sacraments (with some exceptions, there are always exceptions), and marriage between two baptized people (Catholic or not) is a sacrament. However, that right doesn’t apply at all Catholic churches. It only applies to your “home” church. So if I want to get married, the priest at my “home” church can’t say no without a very, very good reason. Some of these reasons might be if I’m already married to someone else, if I just met my fiancé yesterday, or if I’m younger than the legal marriage age. He can have some say on the wedding date, whether or not he thinks you’re “properly prepared,” (but even then he can’t require you to attend all the marriage prep classes), and a say on the nuts and bolts of the ceremony, but he can’t actually refuse to preside over the marriage. Cool, huh?

So how do you figure out which priest is your “home” priest? It depends on where you live. The Code says your “domicile” is your permanent residence, a “quasi-domicile” is a temporary residence, usually based on a combination of intent and length of residency. Your “home” priest is the one who works at the church that covers the territory that includes your domicile. Sound complicated? Let me have Harry Potter explain it for you.

If I lived here, I’d wish Hogwarts was my domicile, too.

Harry lives at Number 4 Privet Drive with his Aunt and the rest of the Dursleys. This is Harry’s permanent residence, in part because he has lived there for a long time. Because he calls that place home, he is protected by his mother’s charm. When Harry turns eleven, he starts spending most of the year away at Hogwarts, but Dumbledore makes Harry return home to Privet Drive at least once a year. This is partly so that, as much as Harry loves Hogwarts, he always thinks of Privet Drive as his “home.” The combination of length of residence and Harry’s intent makes Privet Drive Harry’s “domicile.” Because Hogwarts is somewhere he lives for a significant, but not permanent, amount of time, it is Harry’s “quasi-domicile.” If Harry ever stopped thinking of Privet Drive as his permanent residence, the charm would break. When Harry leaves Privet Drive with the intention of never returning, the charm breaks. 

So for our purposes, the “charm” is the priest who is obligated to witness your marriage. In order to figure out where your “charm” is, you have to figure out where your “Privet Drive” is, regardless of whether or not you have a “Hogwarts.” No matter where you wander, your priest is always connected to your permanent residence (“domicile”), just as the charm was connected to Number 4 Privet Drive. Sometimes your “Privet Drive” is your parents’ house, your own house, or the place where you were baptized. Granted, you might want to get married in Baltimore but discover that your priest is in Seattle. But the fact remains that if you want to make Grandma Mary happy and inherit her extensive Pogs and Beanie Baby collection, there is a priest out there, somewhere, that can’t say no to witnessing your wedding.

3 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Harry Potter and the Code of Canon Law

  1. Pingback: Oh, My Pop Culture Not-Jesus: How Harry Potter Ceases to be a Christ Figure | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  2. “Harry is a Christ figure, can’t he see that?”

    Making a fictional character an allegory for Christ is Anti-Christian to many Christians because it’s seen as undermining the uniqueness of who Jesus is. It’s why I as a writer never make my characters Christ figures.

  3. Hello! Now, I know that this is an older post, but discovering it today was quite delightful. I am also a practising Catholic, involved in education (Catholic schoolteacher), studying for my Master’s degree in Theological Studies, and very much love popular culture, including Harry Potter! (I’m also currently taking canon law.) So, this was a wonderful post to come across!

    I don’t suppose you have a post about which canons have to do with the use of and canonical attitude towards popular entertainment, do you?

    And just out of curiosity, now that you’ve completed your degree, did you end up in the kind of educational career you had hoped for?

    Thanks! I hope you keep blogging and posting!

    Kal 🙂

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