A Vatican priest stepped in it yesterday when he compared the global rash of child molestation investigations to the systemic persecution of Jews.
Speaking in St. Peter’s Basilica, the priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, took note that Easter and Passover fell during the same week this year, and said 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,” said Father Cantalamessa, who serves under the title of preacher of the papal household. Then he quoted from what he said was a letter from a Jewish friend he did not identify. “I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole world,” 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.” Good Friday has traditionally been a fraught day in Catholic-Jewish relations. Until the liberalizing Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, Catholic liturgy included a prayer for the conversion of the Jews, and Catholic teaching held Jews responsible for the Crucifixion.
The Vatican immediately distanced themselves from the remarks, but Jewish groups are livid.
Jewish leaders around the world used words like repugnant, obscene and offensive to describe the sermon, particularly, as Di Segni noted, it came on the day that for centuries Christians prayed for the conversion of the Jews, who were held collectively responsible for Jesus’ death. “How can you compare the collective guilt assigned to the Jews which caused the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people to perpetrators who abuse their faith and their calling by sexually abusing children?” demanded Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the international Jewish rights group.