Catholic League Slams US Catholic Bishops Conference Positive Review of Golden Compass

Harry Forbes has for many years been the Director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Office for Film and Broadcasting.  In 2005, pointed out that Forbes issued a glowingly positive review of the homosexual propaganda film "Brokeback Mountain".  Yesterday, Forbes issued another positive review, this time for the film adaptation of the specifically anti-Catholic novel "The Golden Compass."

"The Golden Compass," is one of Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which includes "Northern Lights" (re-titled "The Golden Compass"), "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass." Pullman wrote these books with the intention of indoctrinating children with atheistic values.  Pullman told The Washington Post in 2001 that he was deliberately "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."

The USCCB review approves the film even for adolescents, and dismisses concerns about the radically anti-Catholic nature of the books saying: "Most moviegoers with no foreknowledge of the books or Pullman's personal belief system will scarcely be aware of religious connotations, and can approach the movie as a pure fantasy-adventure.  . . .  Religious elements, as such, are practically nil." spoke with the Catholic League about the review.  The League has been one of the most vocal groups in warning about the dangers of the books, which will be given renewed interest from the upcoming film starring Nicole Kidman which is to be released next week.

The League did not take issue with the USCCB review praising the film for its artistic merit, but for its winking at the devastating anti-Catholicism of Pullman's trilogy of books of which "Northern Lights", the first one, is the basis for the Golden Compass movie.

Forbes' review says, "The film has already caused some concern in Catholic circles because of the author's professed atheism, and the more overt issue of the novels' negative portrayal of his (very much fictionalized) church, a stand-in for all organized religion."

The Catholic League told that the review by Forbes and John Mulderig (a member of Forbes' staff) presents an "inaccurate rendering" of the controversy.

"Philip Pullman's books do not portray a 'very fictionalized church,' one that is 'a stand-in for all organized religion.' They portray the Catholic Church. That is why he uses the term 'Magisterium,' (for the evil empire)," said the League.

The League says that the USCCB reviewers were "wrong" to say that it was 'a bit unfortunate' that Pullman chose this term Magisterium for the evil empire.  "He deliberately chose it because his target from the very beginning has been Catholicism, not anything else. It was Pullman who said that 'I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.' Not to accept what the man says about himself shows no respect for his integrity," said the League.

In what the League calls "mind-boggling", the USCCB review actually congratulates the screenwriter for portraying the characters as demonstrating "free will" for their opposition to the Magisterium and then suggests that this is a reflection "entirely in harmony with Catholic teaching".

"To the extent, moreover, that Lyra (the central character) and her allies are taking a stand on behalf of free will in opposition to the coercive force of the Magisterium, they are of course acting entirely in harmony with Catholic teaching," writes Forbes. "The heroism and self-sacrifice that they demonstrate provide appropriate moral lessons for viewers."

The League countered: "Nazis are portrayed as having free will in movies, too. Should the screenwriters of this film be commended for reflecting Catholic values? Free will is indeed a Catholic value, but it is the object of free will that carries moral weight."

The USCCB review admits "There is, admittedly, a spirit of rebellion and stark individualism pervading the story," but adds that "only by defying the powers that be, can a scientist like Lord Asriel achieve progress."  Reflecting, Forbes writes, "Pullman is perhaps drawing parallels to the Catholic Church's restrictive stance towards the early alchemists and, later, Galileo."

Of course, Pullman could also be drawing parallels to the Catholic Church's restrictive stance towards embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, and cloning.

The USCCB reviewers conclude, by suggesting that parents allow their children to not only view the film but also read the books, and "take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens."

"Leaving the books aside," says the USCCB review, "and focusing on what has ended up on-screen, the script can reasonably be interpreted in the broadest sense as an appeal against the abuse of political power."

The Catholic League countered, "to say that the movie should be judged by "leaving the books aside" is to miss the point: The Catholic League has never objected to the film, per se, but we have objected to it on the grounds that it is bait for the books."

The League warns that The Golden Compass is the least offensive of the three books and is bait for the books with "sell atheism to kids in a stealth fashion."  The League has produced a booklet against The Golden Compass film's soft sell for the spiritually dangerous book series.  Catholic League President Bill Donohue notes that many Christian groups from all denominations have joined in the effort.

Forbes' 2005 USCCB glowing review of the homosexual film Brokeback Mountain was substantially altered after a readers issued numerous concerns to the Bishops Conference. (See coverage: . has retained a copy of the original glowing review for those interested.

See Forbes' USCCB review of The Golden Compass here:

To respectfully contact individual US Bishops:

See related story with links to several other reports on Golden Compass:
Ontario Catholic School Board Removes Anti-Catholic Book 'The Golden Compass' from Library

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest


  • Guest


  • Guest

    rosary4peace  No, very believable.  Forbes and his ilk at the USCCB should be put out to pasture.  These were the same people who gave a scathing review to Mel Gibson's master piece The Passion of the Christ.  Don't believe for one minute that these people don't have a political agenda. 

  • Guest

    Once again this particular USCCB office has rendered themselves irrelevant.

  • Guest

    The unfortunate thing here is that Catholic movie-goers, upon reading the review, will see the word "bishops" and figure that if the bishops think it is okay, then it is okay for my family. However, Forbes is of course not a bishop, nor can he, given what we are reading here, possibly represent the views of the bishops. I take most of the reviews from the USCCB with more than a grain of salt. Praise God for the Catholic League that is truly a voice crying in the wilderness.

  • Guest

    Smile   Bill, you're a great American!   Smile   


    "If you do not advocate as strongly for assimilation as migration, you are pushing for war on the American people."

  • Guest

    As someone earlier pointed out on this site, the USCCB is primarily a political organization. Examine the initials – location comes first, nebulous function comes second, "Catholic" would be last if English allowed the adjective after the noun. Really it's just a modifier.

    Oh bishops, the pawns will knock you off the board if you continue to be reckless and the Queen will not come to your defense.

    Luckily for us the average reader out there will look at this acronym and have no clue what it stands for.

  • Guest

    looks like you yanks could use a dose of Father Max Pusceddu

  • Guest

    Dear Difiant, send 'em on!  We can use anybody who can differentiate Truth from political fiction!

  • Guest

    Knitmom, you are so right.  With the word "bishops" in their title, their review will do a lot of damage.

  • Guest

    This one tears it. I am recommeniding every single Catholic, and concerned non-Catholic, write to the local bishop and the USCCB expressing concern, confusion, and disgust at the sadly reliable non-Catholic, non-Christian endorsements rendered by this outfit, which bears the name of the Catholic bishops.  I can find the service they provide goffers absolutely no guidance to the faithful in living a life in Christ. We live in a culture hostile to the message of Christ. Promulgating messages like this from an office claiming to be the voice of our bishops does not strengthen our struggle against the culture.

  • Guest

    its no wonder why it is so difficult to organize. Anti-defirmation starts with doing all the research and taking it to the next step. Forbes has to be living in a glass bubble. Its hard enough to try and get people aware of what is really going on. Any one who sees this film and hears Magisterium will not think of anything good.

  • Guest

    The moral authority pulse of the USCCB drops another few beats with this travesty.  After "the scandals" we have prayed for a more enlightened leadership but alas the patient remains seriously ill.

  • Guest

    As a Catholic who teaches religion, I took my children to see the Chronicles of Narnia (we have also read the books) and I took pains to point out the religious symbolism in the work. My friend who is a non believer took her children to the same film and experienced it on a purely fantasy level, though she admits despising the CS Lewis books. I plan to take my children to see the Golden Compass and to watch it from a purely fantasy point of view. We will not read the books. This, of course, just addresses the obvious issue of the boycott. The larger issue for me as a parent is that I do not believe hiding the world from my children will keep them from going astray. On the contrary, I talk freely with them about the many paths that people take in life and reinforce at every turn why my husband and I believe in following the words of Jesus.

  • Guest

    To tuny — could you at least watch the film yourself before you take your kids to see it?  Perhaps check it out on DVD once the library has it.

    No, "hiding the world from my children" may not keep them from going astray, but there are some things that I tell them are not good for them.  This is one of them.  

  • Guest

    I plead guilty to hiding my children from the world — the world of pornography, the world of sadistic violence, the world of graphic language, the world of indecent music, and so on. They will be exposed to it, but not from me.  We will discuss it, but not expose them to it.

    We can have the discussion about the symbolism and messages of this particular film without seeing it because it is uber-marketed to the point that we are unable to avoid it. The marketers will not get my money on top of it all.

    There is much to do in exposing our children to the hidden world of truth, the hidden world of beauty, the hidden world of service, the hidden world of justice.

    So much to do. So little time. So much crud demanding we pay it respect.

    But, "God is not proud…He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything to Him." CS Lewis

  • Guest

    To Protect the Rock

    I too protect my children from pornography, graphic violence and misogynistic music, but this film is none of those things. It is merely a fantasy film whose author does not believe in God. The overtly anti-church message has been whitewashed from the film. Moreover, it is fiction.

  • Guest

    "The overtly anti-church message has been whitewashed from the film." 

    I've heard "toned down", not eliminated.  After all, how far can you go when the main enemy is "The Magisterium"? 

    This movie is based on the least offensive book of the trilogy.  Are you going to let your kids watch the first movie, and then later deny the sequels?  Really? 

    Don't your kids ever want to read a book a movie was based on after seeing the movie?

    This is merely a fantasy film whose author wanted children to not believe in God. He has repeatedly said this. See for example.

    If you want to expose your children to this, under the guise of "mere fantasy", suit yourself. 

  • Guest


    You are, of course, free to do so.  As a parent, I am sure you now your children best. Me too.


    P.S. This is not directed at you per se, but being "a Catholic who teaches religion" does not necessarily distinguish a person positively regarding judgment on children's catechesis. Catholics teaching religion have fallen short over the past few decades in the USA and some have even done great damage.