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TIME's Jeff Israely Calls the Pope a 'Scrooge'

TIME magazine's Jeff Israely compared Pope Benedict XVI to Charles Dickens' most famous character, Ebenezer Scrooge, in his latest column, which focuses on the “tough line on Church doctrine” the pontiff has taken.

Writes Israely, “...[T]here is growing proof that the 82-year-old Pope is...quite willing to play the part of Scrooge to defend his often rigid view of Church doctrine.” Israely later put Scrooge's characteristic anti-Christmas exclamation in the mouth of the Holy Father: “...[O]ne can imagine Benedict flashing that gentle smile, tilting his head ever so slightly and declaring: 'Bah Humbug!'”

The correspondent's Thursday column on Time.com, titled “The Pope's Christmas Gift: A Tough Line on Church Doctrine,” began with Israely apparently lamenting that the old nicknames for the Pope are no longer effective tools: “Those nicknames from the past — God's Rottweiler, the Panzercardinal — don't seem to stick anymore. After acquiring a reputation as an aggressive, doctrine-enforcing Cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI has surprised many with his gentle manner and his writings on Christian love.” He then saw it fit to give the Pope the “Scrooge” nickname, just in time for Christmas: “But with the Christmas season upon us, there is growing proof that the 82-year-old Pope is also quite willing to play the part of Scrooge to defend his often rigid view of Church doctrine.”

How are the Pope and the Catholic Church being “rigid” this time around? The Holy See, which has permanent observer status at the United Nations, recently voiced its opposition to a proposed General Assembly resolution which calls for the end to legal discrimination against homosexuals. According to a December 1, 2008 article in The Times of London, all of the member nations of the European Union “have signed a draft declaration drawn up by France, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, condemning 'discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.'”

Israely quoted from the Holy See's nuncio to the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, who expressed why the Church was against the resolution: “...Migliore said the Vatican's opposition to the U.N. proposal was driven by concern that countries that prohibit gay marriage would somehow be targeted. Said Migliore: 'Countries that don't recognize the union between people of the same sex as marriage will be punished and pressured.'” The Time magazine correspondent then briefly tried to explain that the Church was off-base in its concerns: “The U.N. declaration does not in fact mention gay marriage, and most of the nations that support it themselves don't allow people of the same sex to wed.”

The declaration may not mention “gay marriage” specifically, but the language of the resolution, “discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” is so general that the Holy See seems to be justified in its concerns. The Vatican's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, actually took this line of reasoning in explaining the Church's stance: “[The resolution] introduces a declaration of political value that could result in systems of control, according to which, every norm -- not only legal, but also related to the life of social or religious groups -- which does not place every sexual orientation on exactly the same level could be considered as contrary to respect of human rights.”

Later, Israely turned to another issue in which he thinks Pope Benedict is being “rigid” -- the “sign of peace” during the Catholic Mass:

Benedict has said repeatedly that the Church is forced to speak out against the tide of secularization, especially in Catholicism's home turf in Europe. His kindly manner notwithstanding, Benedict does not seem to hesitate doing or saying what he deems necessary to keep Catholicism from straying too far from its doctrinal tradition.

And that includes revisiting the Catholic liturgy if necessary. His top Vatican deputies are now studying a change to the mass that would affect the moment when members of the congregation are asked to greet each other with a “sign of peace.” Worshippers then exchange handshakes, or sometimes a hug or kiss. In 2007, writing about the exchanging of the peace, Benedict called for “greater restraint in this gesture which can become exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly before the reception of Communion.” It may now be moved earlier in the service....

Though there is no indication if or when the proposed movement of the peace would happen, this change would respond to a desire by the Pope to rein in some of the excesses that he sees in the ways the faith is currently celebrated. And to those who wonder why not just let everyone to say 'peace' when and where they please for Christmases to come, one can imagine Benedict flashing that gentle smile, tilting his head ever so slightly and declaring: Bah Humbug!

One would think that Mr. Israely has witnessed Catholic Masses before -- he is Time's correspondent in Rome, after all. The “sign of peace” isn't about letting people offer peace “when and where they please.” As Pope Benedict pointed out, it can often become more than just a handshake, hug, or kiss, but too often turns into a two-minute-long love fest where people are wandering around the inside of the church to give friends bear hugs, forgetting that they're carousing in a sacred place. He has a duty, as the chief earthly teacher of the Catholic Church, to educate the faithful on issues like divine worship and morality. The Holy Father must really be a “Scrooge” for trying to call to mind that Catholics attend Mass to worship God first!

This isn't the first time Israely has been critical of the pontiff. In a September 2007 piece titled “Will the Pope Behave in Austria?,” he bemoaned how Benedict failed to mention  “the history of forced conversions and other violence by Catholics against the indigenous population” when the Holy Father spoke about the Church's participation in <?xml:namespace prefix = v ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" /><?xml:namespace prefix = w ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word" />the European settlement of Latin America.

Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.