Sunday, April 4, 2010

An unholy comparison

By Don Klein

"The use of stereotypes, the passing of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," read a high ranking Vatican priest quoting from a letter written by a Jewish friend.

Wait a minute. Was he equating the public scorn aroused by the Vatican's protection of Catholic clergyman who abused children with the ageless Christian theme of unremitting bigotry against Jews? Does this cleric have his head on straight? Why would he read out loud such a ridiculous conclusion?

Father Cantalmessa, the priest making the remarks, holds the title of preacher of the papal household. Is there any wonder that respect for the Catholic priesthood has dropped so precipitously. They are now almost as low in public standing as members of Congress.

Let’s look at this comparison factually. Just the truth please. Jews have been victims of discrimination throughout history by Christian clergy, specifically the Catholics, for no other reason than being Jewish and not followers of Jesus. Their conversion is high among Catholic targets.

It wasn’t until Pope John XXIII that official anti-Semitism ended.

If it wasn’t for this dishonorable and ageless hatred of Jews, chances are the Holocaust never would have happened. Hitler probably would not have had the support of most Germans for the slaughter that killed over six million innocent non-Christians.

That was anti-Semitism at its peak. There were hundreds of other less horrible examples. Christians imposed laws that denied Jews the right to own land, to work in certain employment, to travel freely, and Jews were expressly and regularly branded from the Sunday pulpit as heretics and worse.

Even in the US where all men supposedly where created equal, Jews in my lifetime could not live in any neighborhood they chose, could not work in any industry they preferred, could not even be elected to public office until they overcame this built-in prejudice through education, by moving gingerly through life and by hard work.

Now compare that with the priests who for generations sexually abused children in their charge with the knowledge that if they were caught they would be transferred to another diocese where a whole new array of virginal youngsters became available prey for their lust. They understood that the church’s predominant concern was protecting its image, not its flock.

After decades of ugly revelations of what it meant to be a Catholic youngster in numerous American cities and being victimized on a regular basis, the focus now turned to Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and even the pope’s home territory in Germany. It was no longer "an American problem" as the church liked to claim in kissing off the previous abuse allegations.

It seems that Irish kids, German youth, and children from other areas of Europe were also being victimized by beguiling clergymen, who after being caught, were not punished, nor defrocked, nor arrested, but hidden away by church elders at a new location to protect the "reputation" of the church.

When this was revealed to have happened in the diocese under Cardinal Joseph A. Ratzinger’s authority, wasn’t it natural for the public to demand the truth especially since the erstwhile cardinal is now the pope? But as it has been many times before with this pope, the issue has been stonewalled.

In the case of the horrors of the Irish priesthood’s authority over the infamous work houses for the destitute young people and other sexual abuses there, the pope apologized and said he is sorry for the pain they caused. But not a single clergyman responsible for the frightful conditions was disciplined.

As for the abuses in his German home grounds, the pope had a different answer. He said he didn’t know about it even though many have claimed they reported the circumstances directly to his office. Pope Benedict is beginning to sound like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifying before Congress not too long ago.

How these different scenarios equate to religious prejudice is beyond most thoughtful people. To describe criticism of the pope as similar to centuries of anti-Semitism is a crock.

"Father Cantalamessa chose to equate calumny against the Jewish people as the same as criticism of Pope Benedict," said Kristine Ward, a spokeswoman for the National Survivor Advocates Coalition told The New York Times. "It is incomprehensible that Father Cantalamessa did this and that Pope Benedict, the ultimate authority in this church who presided at the service, did not stand during the service to disavow this connection to anti-Semitism."

The church quickly disassociated itself from Cantalamessa’s remarks, The Times reported. Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, stressed that Father Cantalamessa’s sermon represented his own thoughts and was not an official Vatican statement. Lombardi said the remarks should not be construed as equating recent criticism of the Catholic Church with anti-Semitism.

"I don’t think it’s an appropriate comparison," he added.

And, of course, then there was what I consider justifiable reaction from Jewish sources. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League in the United States, attributed the remarks to ignorance, not malice. "You would think that a senior priest in the church would have a better understanding of anti-Semitism than to make this hideous comparison," he said.

It really doesn’t matter whether it was ignorance or malice on the priest’s part. In either case it was an incomprehensible statement and the fact that the pope was sitting in the room listening to this idiocy without reaction is a telling message to me as to where his thoughts are at this time of church strife.

It is a classic case of making the offender into the victim.