We had just about decided that it was not our place to criticize the internal workings of the Roman Catholic Church when the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa made it our place.
Last Friday – called Good Friday on the Gregorian calendar, a sacred day to Christians – this “preacher of the pontifical household” gave a sermon, in the silent presence of the pope, likening the media coverage of the Church’s abusive-priest sex scandals to anti-Semitism.
According to The New York Times, he said that Jews “know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence” – omitting to mention the violence perpetrated and fostered by the Church itself – “and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” i.e., to see the media coverage as victimization of the Church. For evidence of this, he quoted from what he said was a letter from a Jewish friend: “I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the pope, and all the faithful by the whole world. 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.”
What an odd sentence, particularly purporting to come from someone Jewish. “The more shameful acts of anti-Semitism”? Meaning there are less shameful acts? And “the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt”? When did anyone, Pope Benedict XVI included, take responsibility for the truly shameful cover-ups of priests who abused what appear to be hundreds of children?
It is that evasion of responsibility, over many years, even before Archbishop and then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Benedict, that has led to this moment of unease and anguish for the Church.
Perhaps the Church has a different definition of responsibility. We are not being facetious here; perhaps the Church feels that it has done what it should – urged repentance on the accused priests and in some cases therapy, as well as transferring pedophile priests so they would not continue to work with children (although some seem to have done so).
But the Rabbis have a saying the Vatican would do well to heed: “The law of the land is the law.” Criminal priests should not be sheltered from the law of the land.
According to Monday’s Times, “The Vatican’s official spokesman disassociated the Holy See and the pope from the sentiment” expressed by Cantalamessa. And that priest said in an interview in an Italian newspaper on Sunday, “If, against every intention, I hurt the feelings of Jews and victims of pedophilia, I am truly sorry and apologize.”
But the Church has a lot more to apologize for than hurt feelings.