A senior Vatican priest speaking at a Good Friday service compared the uproar over sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church — which have included reports about Pope Benedict XVI’s oversight role in two cases — to the persecution of the Jews, sharply raising the volume in the Vatican’s counterattack.Reaction has been swift:
The remarks, on the day Christians mark the crucifixion, underscored how much the Catholic Church has felt under attack from recent news reports and criticism over how it has handled charges of child molestation against priests in the past, and sought to focus attention on the church as the central victim.
In recent weeks, Vatican officials and many bishops have angrily denounced news reports that Benedict failed to act strongly enough against pedophile priests, once as archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1980 and once as a leader of a powerful Vatican congregation in the 1990s.
Benedict sat looking downward when the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, who holds the office of preacher of the papal household, delivered his remarks in the traditional prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica. Wearing the brown cassock of a Franciscan, Father Cantalamessa took note that Easter and Passover were falling during the same week this year, saying he was led to think of the Jews. “They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” he said.
A leading advocate for sex abuse victims in the United States, David Clohessy, called comparing criticism of the church to persecution of the Jews “breathtakingly callous and misguided.”It doesn't help that Benedict's tenure has been blemished by several questionable decisions with regard to Judaism:
“Men who deliberately and consistently hide child sex crime are in no way victims,” he said. “And to conflate public scrutiny with horrific violence is about as wrong as wrong can be.”
The comments could cause a new twist in Vatican-Jewish relations, which have had ups and downs during Benedict’s papacy.
Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, who hosted Benedict at the Rome synagogue in January on a visit that helped calm waters after a year of tensions, laughed in seeming disbelief when asked about Father Cantalamessa’s remarks.
“With a minimum of irony, I will say that today is Good Friday, when they pray that the Lord illuminate our hearts so we recognize Jesus,” Rabbi Di Segni said, referring to a prayer in a traditional Catholic liturgy calling for the conversion of the Jews. “We also pray that the Lord illuminate theirs.”
In 2008, Benedict ruffled feathers with Jewish groups when he issued a ruling making it easier to use the Latin Mass including that Good Friday prayer, which had fallen out of widespread use after the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council. In January 2009, he stirred outrage when he revoked the excommunication of four schismatic bishops, one of whom turned out to have denied the scope of the Holocaust.
The legacy of the wartime pope, Pius XII, has been another sticking point. Some say he didn’t do enough to save Jews during the Holocaust; on a visit to the Rome synagogue in January, Benedict said that the Holy See had “provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way,” to help Jews.