What is there to say about a Catholic Church that has been engaged in dialogue with American Jewish groups for decades yet, in recent months, seems shamefully unaware of Jewish sensitivities – or shamefully indifferent?
The Church offers a remarkable example of the power of interfaith discussion in its Vatican II statements in the 1960s that absolved Jews of the death of Jesus and led to major improvements in liturgy and Church teachings. Since then there have been many constructive and productive efforts between the Vatican and Jewish leaders. Maybe what is needed today is more dialogue and smarter, more assertive outreach to a Church leadership that listens but sometimes doesn’t hear.
By now everybody knows the latest Vatican offense. On Good Friday, a holiday with grim meaning in the long history of Church anti-Semitism, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pope Benedict’s own pastor, drew an offensive comparison between criticisms of the Church’s response to the ongoing pedophilia scandal and the victimization of Jews.
As Pope Benedict silently listened, Father Cantalamessa seemed to suggest that the Church leaders who repeatedly covered up the grievous sins of some of their priestly representatives, at untold cost to thousands of children who were molested, are the victims here – like the Jews slaughtered and persecuted over the centuries for the simple sin of being Jewish.
Father Cantalamessa’s lame apology came three days later, and was worthy of an American politician caught red-handed in some tawdry hypocrisy: “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,” he told an Italian newspaper.
Claims by Vatican spokesmen that the offensive sermon didn’t reflect the views of this Pope aren’t very convincing, given Benedict’s record of reaching out to fringe elements in the Church that echo the traditional anti-Semitism he claims to abhor.
We feel for those Jewish leaders who have toiled so long in the fields of Jewish- Catholic dialogue, with a record of both progress and deep frustration. This Pope sometimes says the right things on this front, but his actions often send out a very different message – as if dialogue is just an exercise in public relations entirely unrelated to what Church leaders actually do.
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