The pope's personal preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, in a Friday sermon in St Peter's Basilica, said attacks on the Catholic Church and the pope over a sexual abuse scandal were comparable to "collective violence" against Jews.Jewish groups have roundly condemned Cantalamessa, and the Church for condoning these statements, which were made in a Good Friday sermon.
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.
Cantalamessa, speaking with the pope sitting nearby, said Jews throughout history had been the victims of "collective violence" and drew comparisons between Jewish suffering and attacks on the Church.
"The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," Cantalamessa quoted from the letter.
A Vatican spokesman said the comparison "is absolutely not the line of the Vatican and of the Catholic Church."
The fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church has been repeatedly wracked by sex scandals involving priests abusing underage parishioners and the Church has been incapable of dealing with the problem headlong.
Instead of dealing with the scandal directly and honestly, the Vatican has claimed that media reports of the scandals and the purported coverup have been a smear job on the Pope. This is far from the truth, and instead of dealing with the scandal's root causes, it deflects attention away from the lack of responsibility among Church leaders to oversee their charges.
The fact is that Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, knew of one particular case involving a German priest, but chose not to defrock him.
What's most troubling is the excuses coming from people like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League to avoid the Church taking responsibility for failing to clean its house of priests and others who have engaged in such behavior, condoned such behavior, willfully allowed such behavior to continue, or otherwise engaged in actions that allows such individuals to continue to have any role in leading Church activities.
The way I see it, the Catholic Church (and any other group for that matter) should have a zero tolerance attitude towards such activities, including pedophilia and hebephilia or ephebophilia (all of which are usually put together as pedophilia - and often constitute statutory rape in most jurisdictions because the children are not of the age of consent). It's not just that, it's that the church officials were taking advantage of their position of power and abusing these kids.
And the coverup is even worse - because instead of taking actions to restore some measure of trust in the Church, the fact that religious leaders at the highest levels knew and did nothing (or worse - sought to obfuscate the issues), people who do believe in the Church will find that confidence shaken and the trust broken.
The Church is suffering a crisis of conscience and leadership, and if it wants to regain the trust of Catholics around the world, it has to take a far stronger stand on the child sex abuse scandals than it has taken to date. That means adopting a zero-tolerance position around the world, not just in the US (where canon law requires defrocking priests involved in sex scandals).