ROME (JTA) — A Vatican official apologized for comparing criticism directed at the Catholic Church over a widespread pedophilia scandal to anti-Semitic attacks on Jews.
"If — and it was not my intention to do so — I hurt the sensitivities of Jews and victims of pedophilia, I am truly sorry and I ask for forgiveness," the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, said in an interview published Sunday in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Jewish groups had slammed Cantalamessa for his remarks made during a Good Friday service in St. Peter’s Basilica attended by Pope Benedict XVI. The pope had not been aware of what he was going to say during the prayer, Cantalamessa told the Italian daily.
Cantalamessa, noting that Passover and Easter fell this year in the same week, quoted during the service from a letter he said was from a Jewish friend. The friend, Cantalamessa said, wrote that he was "following the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole world."
He quoted the friend as adding that "the use of stereotypes, the shifting from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism."
The chief Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the comparison was not "appropriate" and that Cantalamessa’s statement did not represent official Church thinking.
Stephan Kramer, the secretary general of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, told the Associated Press that Cantalamessa’s remarks were "repulsive, obscene and most of all offensive towards all abuse victims as well as to all the victims of the Holocaust."
The New York Times reported that Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, who hosted Benedict during a historic visit to the Rome main synagogue in January, "laughed in seeming disbelief" when informed of Cantalamessa’s comparison.
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center called the remarks "hurtful." They "were made in the presence of the pope, and the pope himself should take responsibility and apologize for them," he said.
“To invoke the issue of persecution against Jews as a lever to try and deflect attention from the crisis inside the Catholic Church is not only unfortunate but simply stunning,” AJC Executive Director David Harris told Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News last Friday.
The Church and the pope have been under heavy fire in recent weeks for the alleged mishandling of hundreds of cases of sexual abuse by priests against children over several decades in several countries. Media reports have accused the pope and other Church officials of covering up the molestation and negligence in disciplining some of the perpetrators.