Setting the record straight — again

You’d think I’d would have just become accustomed to the mainstream media intentionally misrepresenting things the Pope writes in the hope they can come up with a sensational story — or at least a sensational headline so people read or listen to the story.

But I’m an optimist, and I’m always hoping that they’ll wise up and actually seek to report fairly on the Church. That, though, would probably require journalists to learn something about the Catholic Church, which they don’t want to do or don’t have time to do, so they resort to the lowest common denominator, which is an overarching mentality that Church/Pope = bad/antiquated/backwards*

What’s my latest beef? The coverage of the release a couple of weeks ago of Pope Benedict’s third volume of his Jesus of Nazareth series. The book deals with the stories of the birth of Jesus, and the Pope makes a few observations that are fairly mundane but have become the basis of a round of misrepresentations to seek to portray him as the lead from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

The Gospels don’t say anything about animals being present at the birth of Jesus, despite the common appearance of them in nativity scene, the Pope says. Angels weren’t singing in the Gospel accounts either. And historians got the dates wrong, and Jesus was probably born somewhere around 4 or 6 BC. Apparently that’s the sort of fact that may shake Christianity to its core, and a number of other things were going to, such as the now widely discredited Wife of Jesus papyrus. offers a useful critique of the ridiculous media coverage.

It turns out the press has not done their research! Or maybe they have… but they are conveniently glossing over the real facts for the sake of a good headline.

So how did the headline: “Nativity story’s significance continues to unfold today” (Catholic News Service)

… lead to this headline: “Pope’s book on Jesus challenges Christmas traditions” (CNN)

… then to this one: “Killjoy Pope crushes Christmas nativity traditions: New Jesus book reveals there were no donkeys beside crib, no lowing oxen and definitely no carols” (Daily Mail, UK)

… and finally this headline: “Pope bans Christmas” (

Here is the real story – Pope Benedict XVI released his latest book “The Infancy Narratives” on 21 November 2012 in Italian.

In the book, the Pope, as an historian and a scholar, looked at the real Christmas story and separated the facts from the myths by analysing 180 versus from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (see Rome Reports). He then invites the reader to apply the information and message to their personal lives. One of the myths that the Pope raised was that there is no historical record of Christmas carols being sung at the first Christmas. He also noted that the true date of Christmas is likely to be a lot earlier than what we currently celebrate, and also that there is no account of their being animals in a manager where Jesus was born – pointing out that our modern concept of the Nativity scene is not really what the first Christmas looked like.

Does this mean that the Pope has banned Christmas traditions?

Not at all! As Alessandro Speciale, Vatican correspondent for the Religion News Service, said to CNN ”The pope is a traditional man and he doesn’t want people at all to change their traditions”. In fact, the Pope has always keenly advocated the singing of Christmas carols as an important part of our Christian culture!

* I am mindful this is a generalisation, but it does seem an accurate assessment of a large chunk of journalists for mainstream media outlets.

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