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Pope's preacher compares abuse row to anti-Semitism

Father Cantalamessa is the only person allowed to preach to the Pope

Pope Benedict's personal preacher has compared criticism of the pontiff and Church over child abuse to "collective violence" suffered by the Jews.

The Rev Raniero Cantalamessa was speaking at Good Friday prayers in St Peter's Basilica, attended by the Pope.

In his sermon, he quoted a Jewish friend as saying the accusations reminded him of the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism".

His comments angered Jewish groups and those representing abuse victims.

Father Cantalamessa said Jews throughout history had been the victims of "collective violence" and drew a comparison with recent attacks on the Roman Catholic Church.

He read the congregation part of a letter from a Jewish friend who said he was "following with disgust the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope...

"The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," he quoted from the letter.

Father Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, is the only person allowed to preach to the Pope.

The BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says the comments show the Church is continuing to defend itself rigorously and outspokenly against accusations of having systematically covered up cases of sexual abuse by priests in recent decades.

Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi later contacted the Associated Press news agency to say Father Cantalamessa was not speaking as a Vatican official.

He said such a comparison could "lead to misunderstandings and is not an official position of the Catholic Church".

Pope Benedict in St Peter's Basilica

But Stephan Kramer, general-secretary of Germany's Central Council of Jews, described the remarks as offensive and repulsive.

"So far I haven't seen St Peter's burning, nor were there outbursts of violence against Catholic priests," he said.

"I'm without words. The Vatican is now trying to turn the perpetrators into victims."

Peter Isely, spokesman for the US victim support group Snap, said the sermon had been "reckless and irresponsible".

He said: "They're sitting in the papal palace, they're experiencing a little discomfort, and they're going to compare themselves to being rounded up or lined up and sent in cattle cars to Auschwitz?

"You cannot be serious."

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, of the American Jewish Committee, called Father Cantalamessa's comments "an unfortunate use of language".

"The collective violence against the Jews resulted in the death of six million, while the collective violence spoken of here has not led to murder and destruction, but perhaps character assault," he said.

Pope accused

The Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in fresh allegations of child sex abuse by priests, most recently in Germany.

The Pope has been accused of failing to take action against a suspected abuser during his tenure as archbishop of Munich - a claim the Vatican strongly denies.

Critics also say that when he was head of the Vatican office dealing with sex abuse, he did not act against a US priest who is thought to have abused some 200 deaf boys.

Thousands of pilgrims are in Rome for the Easter rituals.

Following the service at St Peter's Basilica, the Pope went to Rome's Colosseum for the Way of the Cross procession commemorating Christ's crucifixion.

During the procession, the Pope spoke briefly about the evening's religious observances before blessing the crowd, prompting cheers and some shouts of "Long live the Pope".

On Saturday, he is to lead an Easter vigil service in St Peter's and on Sunday he is due to deliver his traditional Urbi et Orbi - to the city and the world - message and blessing.



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