The pope became a victim of tabloid and social media outrage this week, after some interpreted his new book as an assault on Christmas.
Reuters reports that Pope Benedict’s “The Infancy Narratives - Jesus of Nazareth,” published Nov. 20, had people buzzing that the pontiff had snubbed traditions such as caroling and animals in nativity scenes.
“Pope bans Christmas,” blared one headline.
“Killjoy Pope crushes Christmas nativity traditions,” suggested another.
The reaction surprised the Vatican, according to Reuters, and prompted Catholic social network XT3 to run a story that dissected the media coverage of the book, with the headline “The Pope has not banned Christmas.”
One of the facts stated in the book is that in the gospels there is “no reference” to the presence of animals in the stable -- and the book suggests Jesus may have been born in a cave. But later, the Pope writes that today, “no representation of the crib is complete” without animals and explains the derivation of animals in modern Bible interpretations. He acknowledges that traditions that have developed over the centuries matter more than unverifiable facts.
Father Robert Dodaro, professor of early church writings at Rome’s Patristic Institute, defended the pope in the Reuters report.
“I think that what people need to realize here is that the pope is trying to be as historical as he can be," he said.
As for caroling, the alarmists were concerned that the pope wrote about the angels speaking a well-known phrase when Jesus was born, instead of singing it. But in fact, the book also says that “Christianity has always understood the speech of angels is actually song,” and that it’s “only natural that simple believers join in their caroling on the Holy Night.”
"No one's faith should be shaken by this book," Dodaro said. "On the contrary, it should be fortified by this account. This is a believable account of the birth of Christ," he said.
Meanwhile, in St Peter's Square, workers have started building the Vatican's giant nativity scene, which is expected to include both animals and singing angels.