Like many non-Catholics, I have been observing the unfolding international scandal over sexual abuse of children by priests with a kind of shocked fascination. But apart from feeling deep compassion for the victims and anger at what they suffered, I did not feel directly involved.
That changed today when the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, delivered remarks in the traditional Good Friday prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica with Pope Benedict in attendance.
According to the New York Times account of the event, Father Cantalamessa noted that Easter and Passover were falling during the same week this year. "They (the Jews) 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," he said.
Father Cantalamessa quoted from what he said was a letter from an unnamed Jewish friend. "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."
Do I really have to go through the history of Christian persecution of Jews -- the Crusades, medieval blood libels, mass expulsions, the Inquisition, routine humiliation, forcible conversions, social isolation, and on and on up to and including the Holocaust to demonstrate how misplaced this comparison is?
The fact that the remarks were delivered on Easter makes them even more problematic. My father still vividly remembers how Jews in his small town in Poland cowered in their homes on Easter because it was then that the priests preached to the faithful that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, a guilt that was passed from generation to generation. Townspeople would then roam the streets looking for revenge.
It's not for me to say how Catholics should sort out their issues. I have only one request: please leave the Jews out of it.
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