Pope's preacher likens outcry over child abuse to anti-Semitism
Speaking at a Good Friday service in St Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict’s personal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa said that criticism of the Pope and the Catholic Church over the child sex abuse scandal was comparable to anti-Semitism.
REUTERS -Attacks on Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church over a sexual abuse scandal are comparable to the most shameful anti-Semitism, the pontiff's personal preacher told a Vatican Good Friday service.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Franciscan whose title is "Preacher of the Pontifical Household," drew the parallel during a "Passion of the Lord" service in St Peter's Basilica on the day Christians commemorate Jesus' death by crucifixion.
His comments drew sharp criticism from some Jews.
Cantalamessa, noting that this year the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter fell during the same week, said Jews throughout history had been the victims of "collective violence" and drew a comparison with attacks on the Church over the scandal.
As the pope listened, Cantalamessa read the congregation a part of a letter he received from a Jewish friend, who said he was "following with disgust the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the pope..."
"The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," he quoted from the letter.
"Shame on Father Cantalamessa," said Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
"The Vatican is entitled to defend itself but the comparison with anti-Semitic persecution is offensive and unsustainable. We are sorely disappointed," he told Reuters.
This week's celebrations leading up to Easter Sunday have been clouded by accusations that the Church in several countries mishandled and covered up episodes of sexual abuse of children by priests, some dating back decades.
Shaken by the crisis, the Vatican has accused the media of an "ignoble" attempt to smear the pope at all costs. Some news reports have accused him of negligence in handling sexual abuse cases in previous roles as a cardinal in his native Germany and in Rome.
As revelations of sexual abuse and alleged cover-ups have surfaced almost daily in Europe over the past few weeks, the Vatican has said the guilt of individuals who committed crimes, however heinous, cannot be shifted to the pope or the entire Church.
VATICAN DENIES COVER-UP
The Vatican has denied any cover-up over the abuse of 200 deaf boys in the United States by Reverend Lawrence Murphy from 1950 to 1974. The New York Times reported the Vatican and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, were warned about Murphy but he was not defrocked.
The Vatican has also said the pope, when he was Archbishop of Munich, was not aware that a German priest who underwent therapy after he sexually abused children was later allowed to return to the ministry. The priest later abused children again.
The Vatican says that decision was taken by an aide, not by the future pope.
In Berlin, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, leader of Germany's Roman Catholic Church, said mistakes had been made by failing to help victims of sexual abuse. He voiced hope for an urgently needed "new start".
The 82-year-old pope has not spoken out directly on the accusations that have been swirling for weeks.
On Friday night, the pope was due to preside at a traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession around the ruins of Rome's ancient Colosseum on the most solemn day of the Church's liturgical calendar.
On Saturday, he will lead an Easter vigil service in St Peter's Basilica and on Sunday he is due to deliver his traditional, twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message and blessing.