Jewish groups angered by Vatican preacher’s comments

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CTV News Staff

Date: Fri. Apr. 2 2010 9:52 PM ET

Canadian Jewish groups expressed outrage Friday after the Pope’s personal priest likened anger about the church’s sexual abuse scandals to anti-Semitism.

While the Vatican has distanced itself from the comments, which were made by Pope Benedict’s preacher Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, it did little to tamp down the controversy.

The chief of the Canadian Jewish Congress said that the analogy, which was included in a Good Friday sermon at the Vatican, was unfortunate and troubling.

Bernie Farber told The Canadian Press that Cantalamessa’s words “trivialize the history of the persecution of the Jews.”

Faber is the child of Holocaust survivors.

Meanwhile, B’nai Brith Canada echoed those concerns, as the group’s chief Frank Dimant said that the sermon had “a very unwise choice of analogies and verbiage.”

Earlier in the day, Cantalamessa said that the sex abuse scandal currently hitting the church has made it the victim of “collective violence,” which resembled the suffering of the Jews.

The comments were made all the more incendiary since they came on Good Friday. During the sermon at St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI appeared to be withdrawn.

During the sermon, Cantalamessa quoted a letter from an unnamed Jewish friend who said that “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 added that 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.”

The Vatican quickly said that the comments were Cantalamessa’s own, and that the comments don’t reflect the position of the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, the Vatican’s official daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano ran the full text of the Good Friday message.

Dimant was shocked by the sermon.

“The most shameful aspect of anti-Semitism was the Holocaust,” he said. “That’s the ultimate shame of anti-Semitism.”

Even though the priest was quoting a Jewish friend, Dimant said the words are completely unacceptable.

“It’s a very inappropriate choice of words.”

The comments made at the Vatican spread like wildfire around the globe, angering many and causing more troubles for the Church after a month of controversy.

“It’s rippled right around the world,” said Farber. “This has taken on quite a significant tone. Such comparisons just send shivers down your spine.”

Still, Faber welcomed the Vatican’s position.

“I think that the Vatican reacted so quickly, is good news.”

Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said the remarks from the Vatican were shameful.

“Shame on Father Cantalamessa,” said Steinberg.

“The Vatican is entitled to defend itself, but the comparison with anti-Semitic persecution is offensive and unsustainable. We are sorely disappointed.”

The Vatican has been on the defensive for the past few weeks amid a growing scandal about sexual abuse.

Victims of the abuse allege that the 82-year-old pontiff played a part in covering up the scandal when he was a German archbishop working in Munich.

They also allege that he continued to play into a culture of secrecy while working as a Vatican Cardinal in order to maintain the church’s hierarchy.

On Sunday, those concerns were addressed by the German Catholic establishment itself.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who is the head of the German bishops’ conference, said some clerics didn’t helping victims because of a “wrongly intended desire to protect the church’s reputation.”

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press

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