Pope Benedict XVI faced fresh criticism yesterday after attacks on the Catholic Church over the furor of pedophile priests were compared to anti-Semitism, further marring Easter Week celebrations.
Jewish groups and those representing victims of abuse by Catholic priests denounced the remarks by the pope’s personal preacher during a Good Friday homily.
Joining the chorus of criticism, Rome’s chief rabbi said in an interview published yesterday: “It’s an inappropriate parallel and of dubious taste.”
The comparison was not made on “any day, but on Good Friday, that is the saddest day in the history of relations between Christians and Jews,” Riccardo Di Segni told the Italian daily La Stampa.
The parallel was drawn in a letter that Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal Household, said he received from an unnamed Jewish friend.
“The stereotyping, the transfer of personal responsibility and blame to a collective blame reminds me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism,” Cantalamessa quoted him as writing.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi later told reporters the comments were from “a letter read by the preacher and not the official position of the Vatican.”
However, a top official of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said he found it highly unlikely the pope’s preacher would make such a statement without Vatican approval.
“It was a step taken at a high level to relativize anti-Semitism and the Holocaust,” Stephan Kramer said, adding that such remarks make religious dialogue between Jews and Catholics impossible.
Benedict made no mention of the child abuse controversy during a traditional procession later on Friday at Rome’s Colosseum re-enacting Jesus Christ’s Passion.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the largest and most active of such groups in the US, denounced the remarks, saying they insulted “both abuse victims and Jewish people.”
“The remarks are shameful, inaccurate and a complete distortion of history,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, demanding an apology from the pope himself.
The new woes for the 82-year-old pope came as he prepared to lead an Easter vigil in St Peter’s Basilica late last night.
The child abuse scandal has engulfed much of Europe and the US, prompting harsh criticism of the Vatican’s handling of the scourge.
The pope himself faces allegations that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the Vatican’s chief morals enforcer, he helped to protect predator priests.
The Archbishop of Canterbury told the BBC in a radio interview to be aired next week that the Irish Catholic Church had lost “all credibility” over its massive abuse scandal compounded by evidence of cover-ups by high-ranking prelates, the Times of London reported yesterday.
Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of more than 70 million Anglicans, called the scandal a “colossal trauma” in comments that risk creating tensions with the Vatican ahead of the pope’s visit to Britain in September.
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