Thursday 22 March 2018

Vatican distances Pope from ‘anti-Semitism’ sermon

THE Vatican moved yesterday to distance the Pope from the remarks of his personal preacher, hours after he compared allegations that the pontiff had covered up sex abuse cases to the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism".

The Rev Raniero Cantalamessa, who made his comments at a solemn Good Friday service, faced a storm of criticism at the comparison. Both Jewish and sex abuse victims’ groups said it was inappropriate to compare the discomfort being experienced by the church leadership in the sex abuse scandal to the violence that culminated in the Holocaust.

The Rev Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, later said Mr Cantalamessa was not speaking as a Vatican official when he compared “attacks” on Benedict XVI to “collective” violence against Jews. Such parallelism could “lead to misunderstandings and is not an official position of the Catholic Church”, Mr Lombardi said, adding that Mr Cantalamessa was speaking about a letter from a friend who lived through a “painful experience”.

The Vatican has been on the defensive in recent days, saying the church has been singled out and collectively stereotyped for the problem of paedophilia, which it says is a society-wide issue.

Invoking any comparison with anti-Semitism was particularly sensitive on Good Friday, itself a delicate day in a decades-long effort by Jews and Catholics to overcome a legacy of mistrust.

As the 82-year-old Pope listened in a hushed St Peter’s Basilica, Mr Cantalamessa likened accusations against the Pontiff and the Catholic Church in sex abuse scandals in Europe, the US and elsewhere to “collective violence” suffered by the Jews. Pope Benedict looked weary as he sat near the central altar at the early evening prayer service.

Mr Cantalamessa, in his reflections for the Pope on the Catholic Church’s most solemn day, said he was inspired by a letter from an unidentified Jewish friend who was upset by the “attacks” against the Pope.

Jews “know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognise the recurring symptoms”, said Mr Cantalamessa, a Franciscan priest.

Quoting from the letter, he said his Jewish friend was following “with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the Pope and all the faithful of the whole world”.

“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,” he said, quoting from the letter.

The Pope did not speak after the homily but chanted prayers in a tired voice. He leaned up to remove a red cloth covering a crucifix. He took off his shoes, knelt and prayed before the cross.

Victims say the Pope — both as a former archbishop of Munich and later as a Vatican cardinal directing the Holy See’s policy on handling abuse cases — was part of a culture of cover-up and confidentiality basically devised to protect church hierarchy.

Mr Cantalamessa’s remarks infuriated US Jewish leaders. “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.”

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