WARSAW (AFP) - Catholic priests in Poland burned books they say are sacrilegious this weekend, including tomes from British author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of fantasy novels.
"We obey the Word," priests said in a Facebook post showing photographs of the public book burning and quoting Biblical passages from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.
One passage exhorting believers to destroy the enemies of God includes the command to "burn their idols in the fire".
The post, on a page run by the Catholic "SMS from Heaven" evangelical group, stirred controversy and has gone viral.
Photographs show three priests carrying a basket of books and other items, including an African-styled face mask through a church to an outside fire pit.
Priests are seen saying prayers over the fire pit where other items, including a 'Hello Kitty' umbrella and a Hindu religious figurine, are also burning.
Contacted by AFP on Monday (April 1), the Polish Episcopate and local bishop acknowledged the incident but declined to comment. The local parish did not answer calls.
The book burning took place "after the 10am mass on Sunday, at 11am," an unnamed parishioner at the church in the northern Polish city of Gdansk told the TVN24 commercial news channel.
"And these offerings, which were brought (to the church) during the week, were taken in front of the church and there was a bonfire."
Parishioners were asked to bring items linked to "negative energy" and superstitious beliefs, including good luck charms, the parishioner added.
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"I'd like to believe this is a joke... Seriously? Are people burning fantasy literature in the 21st century in some kind of sick ritual?!" one Facebook user said in a comment underneath the post.
"It's hard for me to believe that we're so backward!" the user added.
Other Facebook users, however, backed the book burning.
"Get rid of everything that does not please God and see how your life will change," one person posted.
Launched in 1997, the Harry Potter series of books spins an epic tale of good and evil focused on the adventures of the eponymous bespectacled young wizard as he struggles against the dark wizard Lord Voldemort.
It has sometimes drawn criticism from religious and conservative circles for what they say is its focus on witchcraft.
This latest incident comes as Poland's influential Roman Catholic church struggles to deal with the fallout of revelations about paedophilia among priests that are unprecedented in this overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Last month, the Polish episcopate admitted for the first time that nearly 400 of its clergy had sexually abused children and minors over the last three decades.
That reflected the findings published in February by a charity focused on sex abuse in the church.
A survey published in the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Monday suggested that 64 per cent of Poles want a secular state, with 29 per cent opposed and seven per cent without an opinion.
The poll was carried out from March 5 to 11 by Kantor Millward Brown on a random representative sample of 1,500 adult Poles.