Fury over anti-Semitism link to church abuse row

The Vatican has moved 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.

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. 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 Benedict.

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” and said, quoting from the letter: “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.”