Confirmation at Hogwarts: Should Lupin have been allowed to teach at Hogwarts?

Part 5 of a series exploring practical applications of the Harry Potter series in a Christian youth formation context. Introduction here.

In my last post, I said something that I didn’t want to have to admit: that Hagrid wasn’t a very good teacher, and could have benefited from support, training, and mentoring. Today, I have something that’s even worse to admit: maybe Lupin really shouldn’t have been allowed to teach at Hogwarts. spoilers ahead

If you’ve read the book The Prisoner of Azkaban, you already know the big reveal (one of many big reveals, as it happens): that kindly Professor Lupin is a werewolf.

He’s an excellent teacher. He knows his subject. He knows how to teach the subject in an engaging and appropriate way. And he’s a good person who cares about his students. But he has this secret – one which the other professors all know and are enjoined to keep. Hints of this keep slipping out, and Snape does his best to direct students towards unearthing the information on their own. Towards the end of the book, this secret is revealed as Lupin is transformed and becomes a danger to the very students he cares about. If he had only taken his potion, things might have been different. But the truth (of the story) is that he didn’t. And this raises a few questions for us to look at.

What is the difference between respecting someone’s privacy and asking people to keep a secret? I think there’s a difference between saying, “This is not relevant and doesn’t need to be discussed” and “Don’t tell anyone.” One is healthy and the other is not. It is my belief that when we start becoming secretive, we are in a dangerous and unhealthy place. Even when the information being kept secret will not, in fact, be detrimental to a person’s position of leadership, the very fact that it is a secret will be damaging.

What is the difference between a limitation that can be overcome and a disqualification?  Does being a werewolf disqualify Lupin from teaching children in a school? The hard thing about answering this question is “It depends.” How well under control are his transformations? What is his history? What treatment is he getting? What support systems does he have in place? What protections does Hogwarts have in place? And the “it depends” can so easily slip, on the one side, to prejudice or, on the other hand, to pity masquerading as “we shouldn’t judge.” And no matter what gets decided, someone is going to say the other choice was right. But discernment is a vital skill.

What level of risk is tolerable? Again, the answer comes down to “it depends.” But the important thing is to lay out clearly what the risks really are, neither exaggerating nor minimizing. In this case, the risks are “Lupin might kill a student or students.” Or “He might turn other students into werewolves.” That’s a pretty darn high level of risk for Dumbledore to tolerate!

When Lupin matter-of-factly points out that parents would withdraw their students from Hogwarts, knowing he was a werewolf, I had to think, “Darn right they would.” The school has just shown his transformations are not under control. It’s the only right decision to make after your professor narrowly avoids killing a student. You cannot keep a teacher in place at the cost of your students’ safety. Being a kind man and a good person -- and a good teacher -- isn't enough.

Often our search for volunteers, youth ministers, and Sunday School teachers is a bit like filling the Defense Against the Dark Arts position. It can be tempting to see someone volunteer and just be relieved the position is filled. But it is vital for us to do our due diligence: to do background checks and safe church training; to communicate with parents about who is going to be teaching their kids and how they have been prepared to do so; and to train, support, and supervise our volunteers.

And if something terrible happens, if someone comes to us with a credible report of any kind of abuse, it is our legal responsibility to report. Not to figure it out ourselves. Not to say, “But he’s such a good man, he would never…” Not to keep it quiet for the sake of the family or the church’s reputation. We do not keep secrets, and we do not put the lives of children at risk for our convenience.