In answer to a BBC interviewer, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told the blistering truth about the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland:
And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society, suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility – that’s not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland.
Without retracting, Williams responded today to the avowedly “stunned” Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, by saying he meant no offense and regretted any difficulties his remarks had caused.
Indeed, how could he retract? He was talking about a country where a recent poll by the Irish Independent found: “Just over half believe that Pope Benedict, who faces allegations of covering up sex abuse in the US and in Germany, should resign.”
That poll is part of the evidence that both the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church are losing public esteem hand over fist, worldwide. For example, a similar poll in Austria found that 57% believe the pope should resign. While:
More than 53,000 people left the Catholic Church in Austria in 2009, and local figures for the first three months of this year hint that last year’s record number could be exceeded.
Likewise, a Stern Magazine poll found that only 24 percent of Germans still trust the Pope, whereas six weeks ago 38 percent said they did. And “19 percent of Germany’s estimated 25 million Catholics were thinking about leaving the Church in response to the sexual abuse scandal.”
A CBS poll found that in the U.S., 24 percent of Americans view Pope Benedict XVI negatively — a startling change from 4% in 2006. While his favorable rating among Catholics plummeted from 40% to 27%.
Stinging fellow clerics who in passing state the obvious will not reverse the decline, and because sharp protests of the undeniable are not likely to be well-received, may accelerate it.
When Pope Benedict XVI’s personal preacher compared allegations that the pontiff has covered up sex abuse cases to the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism,” he called down fire. Speaking on Good Friday, a day already colored with a history of anti-semitism, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa said he thought of the Jews 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.”
The suggestion that the pontiff and the Catholic Church, by being held to account for any role he played in decades of systematically concealed priestly sexual molestation and rape of young parishioners, has become the victim of a Holocaust, is jarring.
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said “It’s heart-breaking to see yet another smart, high-ranking Vatican official making such callous remarks that insult both abuse victims and Jewish people.” He also said, It’s morally wrong to equate actual physical violence and hatred against a large group of innocent people with mere public scrutiny of a small group of complicit officials.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, demanded an apology from the pope himself and said, “The remarks are shameful, inaccurate and a complete distortion of history.” One cannot legitimately compare centuries of anti-Semitism which resulted in “the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people, to perpetrators who abuse their faith and their calling by sexually abusing children?
Rabbi David Wolpe, named the No.1 Pulpit Rabbi in America by Newsweek, wrote in the Washington Post that it was “one thoughtless, brutal remark by one man:”
Moreover, I think of the real victims of the church scandal; the children whose lives were permanently blighted by the cruelty and appetites of wicked men. To use the sufferings of the Jews as an analogy for the church’s public discomfort — given our painful shared history — is indescribably tactless. And my irenic ecumenism starts to fade.
Even to the powerful, the posture of a victim is often easy and attractive. The church is not the victim. Some reactions may be wide of the mark. Some people may be unjustly swept in the net sewn by the actions of others. But I would remind Rev. Cantalamessa of the precise nature of the holocaust: Six million people, including one-and-a-half million children, were starved, gassed, shot, burned, humiliated, brutalized, murdered, not for what they did but for who they were.
As those and other blistering reactions poured in, The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said that Cantalamessa wasn’t speaking as a Vatican official when he compared “attacks'” on the pope to “collective” violence against Jews, conceding that those parallels can “lead to misunderstandings and is not the official position of the Catholic church.”
Yet Cantalamessa’s attempt to cast the church as a victim of the still growing flood of revelations of the rape of women and children by Catholic priests was clearly part of a larger strategy of pushing blame back at those reporting the facts.
While the report on the nauseating abuse is bitterly true, the insinuation against Cardinal Ratzinger is not, and gives every indication of being part of a well-oiled campaign against Pope Benedict.
In that light, Cantalamessa’s sermon can be seen as more of the same attack on a perceived opposition. It was intended to resonate with his audience and characteristic of Vatican neglect under Ratzinger of non-Catholic opinion.
Last January, for example, the Pope lifted the excommunication of four Society of Saint Pius X bishops, among them the ardently anti-semitic Briton, Richard Williamson. To which Israel’s envoy to the Vatican responded by saing the papal decision would “cast a shadow on relations with Jews.” And it did.
That shadow was darkened again, yesterday, and attended by a sense of the Roman Catholic Church as a political campaigner, made giddy by the exertions of its own push-back campaign.