The UK Times must have realized suddenly that they hadn’t besmirched Pope Benedict XVI in weeks so they quickly cobbled together a ridiculous piece claiming essentially that nobody goes to see poor Pope Benedict anymore. Why? Oh it’s because he might as well be called Pope Meany Pants because he always says “No.”

And then to be fair they called upon some critics of the Pope to confirm that nobody liked the Pope and that’s why nobody goes to see him.

THE crowds turning out for Pope Benedict XVI’s preachings and blessings at the Vatican are dwindling fast as the dour pontiff pays the price for his lack of charisma and visibility compared with John Paul II, his showman predecessor.

Figures from the Vatican show the number of pilgrims attending Benedict’s weekly audiences, mainly in a vast auditorium by St Peter’s Basilica, and his Sunday Angelus in St Peter’s Square where he speaks from his study window, shrank from 2.8m in 2007 to 2.2m in 2008.

This is a far cry from the 4m people who came to the Vatican or the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo in the first year after his 2005 election, when the novelty factor drew crowds bigger than in the final years of John Paul. The figures are expected to drop further as the economic downturn hits global travel.

Before his election as leader of 1 billion Catholics, Joseph Ratzinger, the German cardinal and theologian, had been branded “God’s rottweiler” and “the Panzerkardinal” because of his work as an enforcer of doctrine. His personality was contrasted with John Paul, known as “the Grand Communicator” because of his media-friendly skills.

Hey, they got everything but the whole Hitler Youth thing in there. Well, maybe they’ll squeeze it in next time.

They continue by implying a contrast between those who love John Paul II and those who go to see Pope Benedict XVI:

Visitors to the Vatican often pay tribute to John Paul. They shuffle past his tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica and postcards bearing his image still sell well.

Vito Mancuso, a theologian critical of Benedict, linked the smaller crowds to the worldwide fall in priestly vocations and decline in church attendance. He advised Benedict, 81, to stop “saying always and only ‘no’ ”. The church needed to be more humble and doubtful about its rulings on the role of women, sexuality and bioethics, he said.

In the latest “no”, the Vatican on New Year’s Day stopped automatically adopting Italian laws because of potential “antiCatholic legislation” involving euthanasia and gay marriage. In an address to Vatican staff, Benedict said homosexuality threatened humanity as much as did rainforest destruction.

Instead of saying Pope Benedict says “no” to euthanasia how about we say Pope Benedict sounds an enthusiastic “YES” to life. I guess they don’t see it that way.

The fact is that Pope Benedict is not to be judged on the numbers of people who come to see him or attend his Mass. The Church is judged by doing the will of Christ, not saying “yes” to every whim of the people. Her steadfastness is the mark of her adherence to truth.

But the truth of the matter is that during 2008, 2,215,000 faithful and pilgrims participated in a general or special audience, the prayer of the Sunday Angelus, or the liturgical celebrations presided over by the Holy Father, according to Spero. How many world leaders have over 2 million people come to him?

I don’t see The Times getting those kinds of numbers. In fact, The Times circulation is about 576,444. That’s a bit lower than last year. This year, the Times circulation fell by 3.54%. Hmmm…I’ll bet The Times goes out of business long before the Church. Any takers?