Is there a school at the Vatican where priests and bishops are taught how to offend everyone?
The NYT reports that the papal preacher, the Franciscan Cantalamessa, compared criticism of the hierarchy to anti-Semitic persecution:
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.
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.
Father Cantalamessa quoted from what he said was a letter from an unnamed Jewish friend. “I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole word,” he said the friend wrote. “The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”
Father Lombardi, the spokesman for the pope, is running for cover:
Father Lombardi said that he personally did not think that criticism of the church could be compared to anti-Semitism.
“I don’t think it’s an appropriate comparison,” he said. “That’s why the letter should be read as a letter of solidarity by a Jew.”
The chief Rabbi of Rome was astonished:
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.”
At the Holy Thursday liturgy in Baltimore, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien began well when he talked about how scoundrels had disgraced the priesthood, but warmed to his topic when he lambasted newspapers for criticizing bishops and the pope.
I see, abuse of children that wrecked their lives and drive some to suicide is parallel to criticism in the press that upsets a cleric.
As O’Brien spoke, I thought of the plagues: “and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” – and the archbishop’s. O’Brien’s and Cantalamessa’s remarks are stunning demonstration of clerical narcissism.
Jewish leaders and sexual abuse victims are – I can’t imagine why – taking offense:
Stephan Kramer, general-secretary of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, described the remarks as offensive and repulsive.
“So far I haven’t seen St Peter’s burning, nor were there outbursts of violence against Catholic priests,” he said.
“I’m without words. The Vatican is now trying to turn the perpetrators into victims.”
Peter Isely, spokesman for the US victim support group Snap, said the sermon had been “reckless and irresponsible”.
He said: “They’re sitting in the papal palace, they’re experiencing a little discomfort, and they’re going to compare themselves to being rounded up or lined up and sent in cattle cars to Auschwitz?
“You cannot be serious.”
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, of the American Jewish Committee, called Father Cantalamessa’s comments “an unfortunate use of language”.
“The collective violence against the Jews resulted in the death of six million, while the collective violence spoken of here has not led to murder and destruction, but perhaps character assault,” he said.
There is no suffering like unto a cleric’s suffering who has been upset by “unfair” criticism – it is as bad as being herded into a gas chamber.