Saturday, April 03, 2010

Looking The Other Way

What to make of Father Cantalamessa, the Preacher of the Pontifical Household? At the Good Friday Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, his homily, with Pope Benedict XVI in attendance, near the end included:

I received in this week the letter of a Jewish friend and, with his permission, I share here a part of it.

He said: “I am following with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism. Therefore I desire to express to you personally, to the Pope and to the whole Church my solidarity as Jew of dialogue and of all those that in the Jewish world (and there are many) share these sentiments of brotherhood. Our Passover and yours are undoubtedly different, but we both live with Messianic hope that surely will reunite us in the love of our common Father. I wish you and all Catholics a Good Easter.”

Insensitive, offensive, possibly anti-Semitic (one point in favor- no use of "holocaust"). Of course, but not nearly as significant as the purpose behind the remarks.

The BBC online has reported

The Vatican said Raniero Cantalamessa's remarks did not represent its official view (althought).... Fr Cantalamessa's sermon was printed in full on the front page of the Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

The words, the message, and the sense of victimhood are all out there. But if they get a lot of blowback, don't blame us- it's nothing official. Nonetheless, we'll make sure they receive wide distribution.

As obvious a tactic as it is, even that is not as significant as the purpose behind the remarks, though the "this is how we feel, no it's not, yes it is" approach is a pretty good hint.

Blogging on Hullabaloo, Tristero nails it:

Instead of denouncing evil deeds, we are being urged to denounce evil words.

Evil words are very bad, but from the standpoint of people trying to manage a huge crisis, they are more easily explained and excused than evil deeds. And sure enough, they've started the process of diffusing the anger.

Get it? All this time you've spent reading about this he said/she said bull_ _ _ _ is time you have not spent reading about" the alleged events giving rise to the controversy.

Lest the Church's misdirection succeed, let us not forget, as the Times of London summarized in its online edition:

1980 As Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger presided at a meeting about Father Peter Hullermann, who had forced an 11-year-old to have oral sex and had assaulted three other children. Diocese authorities approved Hullermann’s transfer to southern Germany for therapy; police were not told. Hullermann returned to pastoral duties within two weeks but it is unclear whether Ratzinger knew this. Hullermann reoffended

1996 The Archbishop of Milwaukee wrote to Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to ask that the Rev Lawrence C. Murphy, a child abuser, be put through a church trial. Father Murphy had molested up to 200 youngsters. The Archbishop received no response but cardinals halted proceedings against Father Murphy after he wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger begging for mercy

2001 Ratzinger ruled that child abuse claims must be handled in canonical trials behind closed doors. Critics say it has done little to stop paedophile priests from transferring to another parish or to encourage reporting of abuse.

Now The New York Times has found

interviews and documents suggested that Father Murphy, who is accused of molesting as many as 200 boys at the school near Milwaukee, also used his family’s lakefront cottage as a lure in his sexual advances, bringing youths from the school into his home beginning at least in the early 1960s.

What has recently come to light in fresh documents and interviews is that he was in the company of boys not only from the Milwaukee area but in the Northwoods region. Two in the area have accused Father Murphy of abuse, one at the isolated family cottage and the other, as late as 1978, at a youth detention center near Boulder Junction.

Speaking with a therapist years later, Father Murphy denied having any sexual contact “with any person” after leaving the school for the deaf in 1974.

Say what you wish about this entire affair: blown out of proportion, just the tip of the iceberg, or perhaps a travesty which should not obscure all the good work the Church does. But

If it is your job to manage an obscenely large and disgusting scandal, it is far, far better to shift everyone's focus onto some batty priest's intemperate and "unofficial" remarks than do nothing and have people learn even more salacious details about priest/boy buggery.

Words matter. But actions matter a lot more. So Father Cantalamessa's take pales to insignificance compared to past behavior of the current head of the largest Christian denomination in the world. Whatever it might have been, and in whatever context.

1 comment:

Gabriel Wilensky said...


Rev. Cantalamessa, you really messed up today. I know you didn’t mean to insult anyone when you compared the current attacks on the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict with the persecution of the Jews, but you did, and you did it big time. It seems that you are ignoring a few important points: first of all, there is no comparison because the Church persecuted the Jews for no other reason than their Jewishness, which the Church found intolerable, while the current attacks on the Church and the Pope—I wouldn’t quite call it “persecution”—are well deserved as the Church seems to have an endemic child abuse problem compounded with on obstruction of justice problem. This is not the first time this happens. It’s best to not even talk about the Middle Ages. Hopefully the Pope will make use of his power and swiftly remove any offenders from the Church and hand them over to the civil authorities for prosecution, as would be the case with any child molester. The attacks on the Pope are well deserved too. He was responsible for some of these cases before he became pope and he not only did not punish these priests, he moved them to other places where they were able to molest children again! So, it’s hard to feel sorry for the Church or the Pope these days. You also seem to have forgotten that of the 365 days of the year, this is the least appropriate day to make such comparison with the persecution of the Jews. Should I remind you of the forced conversion of the Jews, instituted by the Church centuries ago? Should I remind you of the incitement to violence in the faithful every Good Friday after sermons and Passion Plays? Should I remind you of the accusation of deicide which prompted countless acts of Christian violence toward Jews? Or the Good Friday prayer which asked God to lift the veil of the blind, perfidious Jews?

It makes me wonder about your boss, Pope Benedict, too, because one needs to ask oneself the uncomfortable question of why he didn’t stand up as you were making this innapropriate comparison and distance himself and the Church from your comments. But then, maybe one should not be so surprised about this given his recent track record regarding the sexual predator priests, or his treatment of the whole Bishop Williamson affair, or his reinstating the Good Friday prayer referenced above, or his rush canonization process for the problematic wartime Pope Pius XII. In a way, seeing Pope Benedict looking at the floor today as you uttered those words reminded me of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who also stood silently by the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in 2001 as Assad let loose an antisemitic rant that was broadcast in the entire Christian world. Assad, like the Catholic Church before him, presented Jews as enemies of God. Also like Christians before him, Assad used the Christian blood libel of Jews as Christ-killers. Pope John Paul II did not see fit to stop him right then and there and thus appeared to implicitly accept Assad’s vitriolic statements.

Perhaps this issue of silent popes is also endemic in the Church. After all, Pope Pius XI and his successor Pope Pius XII both stood by silently as the Nazis slowly and inexorably dehumanized, demonized, and exterminated millions of Jews during the Second World War.

To wrap it up, Rev. Cantalamessa, as the sole and direct preacher to the pope I think you yourself need some advising. I would encourage you to think about these things, and next time you sit with Pope Benedict advise him better.

Gabriel Wilensky

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