Victims of abuse by Catholic priests said Friday it was “morally wrong” for the pope’s personal preacher to compare criticism of the church sex scandal to anti-Semitism, as an outraged Jewish group demanded an apology.
In a Good Friday service, Father Raniero Cantalamessa read aloud a letter from a “Jewish friend” who wrote that the “collective blame” involving stereotyping and transfer of personal responsibility to the church over the paedophilia scandal reminded him of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.
“It’s heart-breaking to see yet another smart, high-ranking Vatican official making such callous remarks that insult both abuse victims and Jewish people,” executive director David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the largest and most active of such groups in the United States, said in a statement.
Cantalamessa read out the letter — in which the unnamed friend said he “followed with disgust the violent attack… against the Church (and) the pope” — during the ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica, as Pope Benedict XVI looked on.
SNAP said it was beyond the pale for Cantalamessa to link those who “thoughtfully question the Catholic hierarchy” with anti-Semitism.
“It’s morally wrong to equate actual physical violence and hatred against a large group of innocent people with mere public scrutiny of a small group of complicit officials,” Clohessy said.
The founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group which fights anti-Semitism, demanded an apology from no less than the pope himself.
“The remarks are shameful, inaccurate and a complete distortion of history,” Rabbi Marvin Hier said in a statement.
How, he asked, could one compare centuries of anti-Semitism which led to “the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people to perpetrators who abuse their faith and their calling by sexually abusing children?
“These hurtful remarks were made in the presence of the pope and the pope himself should take responsibility and apologize for them,” Hier said.
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, US director of interreligious relations for the American Jewish Committee, described Cantalamessa’s remarks as “unwise.”
“It’s important to be careful with the kind of language one uses when making comparisons between suffering and violence and other kinds of speech,” he told AFP.
The child abuse scandal has engulfed much of Europe and the United States, prompting harsh criticism of the Vatican’s handling of the scourge.
Greenebaum said it is “understandable that the church is feeling pressured,” but that it was important for the Vatican to “express its own feelings at this point, and how (they feel about) these attacks, these reports.”
“But in doing so, they should be careful not to get too hyperbolic in their language,” he said.