US Jewish leaders denounce Catholic sermon

Last Updated: Fri, Apr 02, 2010 22:10 hrs

's likening of anti-Catholicism during the church's escalating abuse crisis to "collective violence" against Jews, but predicted it would not deal a severe blow to the two faiths' often-strained relationship.

"What a sad irony this would be on Good Friday, where so much of the anti-Semitism was brought about by the church against Jews," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "Anti-Semitism was pogroms, inquisitions, expulsions that led to death ... What a grotesque comparison."

During a Good Friday sermon, Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher compared accusations against the pope and the Catholic church in the abuse scandal to "collective violence" suffered by the Jews.

The priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, quoted a letter from a Jewish friend who wrote that the accusations reminded him of the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism."

Hours later, the Vatican sought to distance itself from the incident. A Vatican spokesman said that remarks are not the church's official position and that such parallelism can lead to misunderstandings.

Foxman called it a "blip, an embarrassment" to Catholic-Jewish relations. While Pope Benedict XVI has visited synagogues, traveled to Israel and reached out to Jewish leaders, the relationship has not always been smooth.

In 2007, Benedict restored a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews that Jewish leaders deemed offensive. Another sore spot is the ongoing sainthood cause for Pope Pius XII, whom some Jews believe did not do enough to stop the Holocaust.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which fights anti-Semitism, said Jewish organizations are not going to stop working with the Vatican because a priest read a letter from a Jewish friend. But he called the analogy "shameful."

"How can you compare the act of anti-Semitism, where the victims did nothing, to the case of sexual abuse, where the priests who took a sacred oath violated that oath by sexually abusing children?" Hier said. "It's comparing perpetrators to innocent victims."

Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser to the American Jewish Committee, said each crisis or catastrophe must stand on its own and that evoking the Holocaust crosses the line.

"It does a disservice to today's Catholic church, which has to deal with its problems, and a disservice to millions of people who were murdered because they were Jews," Rudin said.

Others were more sympathetic to the Catholic church. Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the New Jersey-based Center for Interreligious Understanding, said the church and Benedict are unquestionably under attack.

Comparing anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism was "a little bit of an exaggeration," he said. But Bemporad said he understands what the preacher was driving at: The Jewish community has often been accused and its people even murdered for things for which they bore no collective or even partial responsibility.

"It would be nice," he said, "if there was a little charity and understanding in all this instead of taking someone who is down and kind of stomp on them."