No treats for the wicked as Vatican takes stand against Halloween

THE Catholic Church has swung its crook at celebrants of Halloween, warning parents to forbid children to dress up as ghosts and ghouls, and dismissing the celebrations as a pagan night of "terror, fear and death".

In an effort to take a sharp pin to the ballooning success of Halloween, which has spread from America to Italy in recent years, the Vatican has issued a stern warning through the pages of its official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, with an article headlined "Halloween's Dangerous Messages".

What millions around the world consider a harmless tradition bound by unconvincing costumes and mountains of teeth-rotting sweets is, according to the Catholic Church, riddled with a dark undercurrent of occultism and is "absolutely anti-Christian".

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Father Joan Maria Canal, a Spanish priest and liturgical expert, was quoted in the paper as saying that parents should "direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty, rather than terror, fear and death".

Earlier this week, the Catholic Church in Spain also condemned the growing popularity of Halloween, saying it threatened to overshadow the Christian festival of All Saints' Day.

The Bishop of Siguenza-Guadalajara, Jose Sanchez, said there was a risk that Halloween could "replace Christian customs, such as devotion to saints and praying for the dead".

L'Osservatore praised a church at Alcala de Henares, which had decided to hold a prayer vigil tonight, and the Paris archdiocese's idea of having children playing a lucky dip dubbed Holywins. It added: "These and similar initiatives in South America allow Catholic communities to have an alternative to the feast, to bear witness to their faith and Christian hope in the face of death."

Aldo Bonaiuto, head of the Catholic Church's anti-occult and sect unit, said the event could spur "pitiless (Satanic] sects without scruples".

He added: "Halloween pushes new generations towards a mentality of esoteric magic and attacks sacred and spiritual values through a devious initiation to the art and images of the occult. At best, it gives a helping hand to consumerism and materialism."

The Vatican's criticism of Halloween comes after it praised the witches and wizards saga Harry Potter – an about-face on earlier strong condemnation of the JK Rowling series.

Last night, a spokesman for the British Humanist Association said the Vatican sounded "desperate": "This sort of criticism is completely over the top. Halloween is a bit of fun for children and families in the dark winter months, just as Christmas is. This reads like a slightly desperate attempt to intrude church influence into aspects of people's lives where it is not wanted."

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Meanwhile, the Church of Scotland was last night preparing for its own Halloween party, unconvinced that this meant dappling in the Satanic.

The Rev Mark Johnstone, convener of the Kirk's Mission and Discipleship Council, said: "Halloween for children probably means more in terms of sweets and treats than any serious reference to the supernatural. For the Christian Church, Halloween is the eve of All Saint's Day when we may celebrate all who have been and are alive to God. Halloween parties could be refocused to celebrate faith.

"The Church of Scotland at this year's General Assembly heard of the event being organised in conjunction with the Boys' Brigade, Redeeming Halloween. The significance of the kind of playing and dressing-up involved should not be exaggerated. It is not good if children are upset or frightened by the pressures to observe Halloween, but for many this is not the case."

He added: "The event in Perth this weekend will focus on the Christian faith on the eve of All Saint's Day."