Editorial: Papal failings

The pope must confront the depravities of his Church, wherever they appear.

April 6, 2010 04:23
3 minute read.
Pope Benedict XVI.

pope benedict xvi 311. (photo credit: AP)


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It took three days for Pope Benedict XVI’s personal preacher to realize his folly. On Good Friday, Father Raniero Cantalamessa said he was thinking about the Jews in this season of Pessah and Easter, because “they know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms.”

Callously, astoundingly, the veteran preacher, who has held his position since Pope John Paul II’s era, was not sympathizing with the real victims of the sex scandal rocking the Church. Not the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children who have allegedly been molested by a sexually rapacious clergy over the decades. These were not the “victims of collective violence” Cantalamessa had in mind. Nor was his talk of “recurring symptoms” an allusion to the sex scandals that have surfaced recurrently in the Catholic Church. No, Cantalamessa was reserving his compassion for his fellow clergymen and his boss, who are being rightly censured for failing to stop the abuse and punish the sex offenders.

By Easter Sunday, Cantalamessa had repented.

“If against my every will and intention I hurt the sensibility of Jews and the victims of pedophilia, then I am sincerely sorry and I apologize,” the preacher told Corriere della Sera.

Better late than never – though even now it should be noted that the preacher has not fully acknowledged the baselessness of his misguided comparison.

WHAT COULD possibly have been going through the mind of Cantalamessa, no newcomer to public scrutiny, when he trotted out the specter of anti-Semitism in this context? As The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier put it, “Why would the Catholic Church wish to defend itself by referring to other enormities in which it was also implicated?”

Cantalamessa’s, and perhaps the Church’s, understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism is all-too plainly deeply flawed. And the Church – itself responsible for such inventions such as the “Jew badge,” the auto-da-fé, the blood libel, the Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal – has no excuse for such insensitivity.

Even more pernicious is the charge, also coming from within the Church, that a Jewish Cabal is escalating the present campaign against the pope and the Vatican. The center-left La Repubblica, Italy’s second largest daily, quoted “certain Catholic sources” last week as blaming a “New York Jewish lobby” for sensationalizing the scandal. Revelations such as the pope’s apparent willingness to refrain from defrocking a Wisconsin priest who allegedly sexually abused some 200 deaf children are, ostensibly, only considered news by Jews, such as The New York Times’ Sulzberger family, who are motivated by a “liberal” agenda. Nor is the Times redeemed by “not hesitating to attack Israel,” according to these Catholic sources. Even the “progressive” Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan has accused the Times of having an “uncontrollable desire to personally involve” Benedict in the scandal, according to La Repubblica. Will the real anti-Semites please stand up?

SINCE BECOMING the 265th pope in April 2005, Benedict has inadvertently hurt Jews while trying to reach out to more conservative – and some downright anti-Semitic – elements in the Church.

Prominent examples include his decision to revoke the excommunication of a group of schismatic fundamentalist bishops, including Holocaust denier Richard Williamson; his publicized meeting with anti-Semitic Polish priest Tadeusz Rydzyk just weeks after Rydzyk called Jewish demands for Holocaust reparations from the Polish government “insatiably greedy”; and his decision to revive a Latin-language rite that includes a prayer for the conversion of the Jews.

Now the pope is hurting the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of victims of pedophilia by attempting to play down the present scandal. While the Vatican’s newspaper has called media reports on the unfolding revelations “gross propaganda” against the pontiff and a spokesman has tried to shrug off the affair as “petty gossip,” Benedict himself in his Easter address chose not to speak out against the sick phenomenon, opting to completely sidestep the issue. Is he buying into the Vatican line that he is the target of a smear campaign by the world’s media?

The pope must confront the depravities of his Church, wherever they appear, whether they be child molestation or rabid anti-Semitism. A continued failure to do so undermines his moral legitimacy and the respect of the Catholic faithful worldwide.

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