Pope Benedict XVI’s personal preacher the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa’s recent comparison between scrutiny over clerical abuse and collective violence suffered by Jews was “highly inappropriate” and “not responsible,” and its nature and timing were a reminder of “both the unique significance of the Catholic-Jewish relationship and its fragility,” B’nai B’rith International’s director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs, David J. Michaels, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Michael also called on Church leaders and Catholics worldwide to display more sensitivity to Jews, following the recital of a Good Friday prayer in some Catholic congregations titled, “Let us Pray for the Conversion of the Jews.”
Cantalamessa had in his Good Friday sermon likened mounting sex abuse cover-up accusations against the pontiff and the Catholic Church in the sex abuse scandals to “collective violence” suffered by the Jews.
Jewish groups as well as victims of clerical sex abuse slammed the comparison, and in a Sunday interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Cantalamessa apologized for the remarks, which he had based on a letter from an unnamed Jewish friend, saying he had no intention “of hurting the sensibilities of the Jews and of the victims of pedophilia.”
“Even if this was the view of another unnamed individual, the papal preacher’s comparison of scrutiny over clerical abuse to anti-Semitism was highly inappropriate,” Michaels told the Post. “There is no connection or similarity between anti-Jewish persecution and the very difficult issues with which Catholics are now grappling; the public suggestion of a parallel – in the pope’s presence, on Good Friday – was not a responsible one.
“At the same time, we acknowledge Rev. Cantalamessa’s personal apology and Vatican officials’ clear indication that his sentiments were not those of the Church,” Michaels added.
He also addressed the “Let us Pray for the Conversion of the Jews” prayer, which was recited on Good Friday in Latin by traditionalist Catholic congregations in Italy, plus 16 sections of the Society of Saint Pius, the ultra-conservative society whose excommunication was lifted by Benedict last year and has yet to be fully reintegrated into the Church, because of its refusal to accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. In 2007, Benedict allowed wider use of the 1962, pre-Vatican II Roman Missal containing this prayer. The word “conversion” was not supposed to be part of the prayer’s title in the new edition, and a Vatican spokesman called the printing of it “an error which will be rectified."
“It is particularly important that Church leaders proceed with steps to revise the title of the Good Friday prayer, in the Tridentine liturgy, ‘for the conversion of the Jews,’” Michaels stressed, citing the pope’s recent visit to Rome’s Great Synagogue, in which the pontiff noted the importance of opposing not only anti-Semitism but also “anti-Judaism.”
“Similarly, it is truly important that Catholics worldwide, not least those encountering the Latin rite, be sensitized to Jews’ desire to practice their faith and engage in friendship with Catholics without fear of efforts for conversion,” Michaels added.