The Pope’s Holocaust
Apparently, he compared the present sufferings of Pope Benedict XVI with the ‘most shameful acts of anti-Semitism’ – by which superlative he must mean the six million slaughtered in the Holocaust. He said that Jews throughout history had been the victims of ‘collective violence’, and drew a comparison with current attacks on the Roman Catholic Church over the priestly-pederasty scandal.
You might think that a senior representative of an institution which has had a somewhat fraught relationship with the Jews would think twice before drawing comparisons between a little diplomatic inconvenience and what must have been hell on earth. Not only is the Vatican having to contend with the reputation of ‘Hitler’s Pope’, who allegedly did not do enough to assist the Jews during World War II; and with the constant allusions made to the present Pope’s involvement with the Nazis, even though membership of the Hitler Youth would have been compulsory. But in a spectacular display of (at the very least) insensitivity to the world’s Jewry, not to mention crass indifference to the innocent victims of priestly pederasty (who hardly got a look-in because, he said, ‘there is sufficient talk outside of here’), Father Raniero Cantalamessa has single-handedly brought down the wrath of Murdoch upon the dome of St Peter’s and provoked the ire of chief rabbis all over the world.
And that he did so on one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar is really quite deplorable.
The Jewish magazine, Tablet (another one?), has reportedly said that Fr Cantalamessa is ‘outrageously wrong’. The Roman Catholic Church, they aver, has ‘moved to cover up, paper over, and otherwise tacitly sanction paedophilia’. And they observe: ‘Like the church, Jews know what it feels like to be victims of collective persecution. Unlike the church, Jews don't know what it feels like for their victimhood to be deserved.’
The distinction is important. The blog Autonomous Mind puts it succinctly:
The Catholic clergy is not being criticised for being Catholic, but for the failure to stop the sexual abuse of children by clergy when it was reported. An allegation has been made against the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and it should be investigated. There is absolutely no comparison between the persecution of Jews and the entirely appropriate condemnation of the covering up of physical and sexual abuse by a relatively small number of clergy, and failure to prevent sexual predators being moved on and placed in positions of trust where they could continue to assault children. These carefully calculated comments cheapen the vicious persecution of Jews.But Cranmer wishes to put a few things in perspective.
Fr Cantalamessa has stated in his defence that he was reading directly from a letter received earlier in the week from a Jewish friend; the unidentified letter writer was expressing his contempt for the blatant media assault on the Pope and his tangential administrative involvement with errant clergy 30 years prior.
So his quotation did not imply endorsement.
But of even greater significance (if, indeed, the theology may be considered greater) is that such comparisons are readily invited because of whom Roman Catholics believe the Pope to be: he is the Vicar of Christ, the Vice-Christ, the one who represents Christ on earth and who may speak infallibly on his behalf. According to Roman Catholic orthodoxy, the Pope is 'preserved from even the possibility of error' when he solemnly declares or promulgates to the universal Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals. Moreover, he may be judged by no man and is answerable to no civil authority: he is not simply a religious leader but a head of state who reigns supreme over the princes, kings, presidents and prime ministers of the world by the authority of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit via the Apostolic Succession: Jesus laid hands on Benedict.
Such an ecclesiology naturally implies a degree of divinity: it inclines one to view the Pope as another Christ, such that all the Pope’s trials and tribulations are somehow akin to the suffering of Jesus: they are both holy, spotless lambs of God, wounded for our transgressions. When Pope Benedict was attacked last Christmas, for one priest it brought to mind ‘one of the central mysteries of faith, the vulnerability of the Incarnate God, the Word who became Flesh’:
As Word and Son He knew all things but experienced nothing. Through the womb of the virgin God experiences dependency and vulnerability, and ultimately suffering and death. In His Body, the Church, in his priests and in His people, unfortunately sometimes through them, he continues to experience and to suffer.Monsignor Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, has also said that the Pope is ‘suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob and scourging at the pillar as did Jesus’.
So while Jews (and others) might be justifiably appalled and grievously offended that Fr Cantalamessa has appropriated the Holocaust for his own ecclesio-political purposes, it is really no different to comparing being knocked to the floor by a mad woman, or allegations duplicity and 'cover-up', to the unimaginable agonies of crucifixion. When a man possesses the attributes of divinity and bestrides the narrow world like a demi-god, any assault upon his personage – verbal or physical – amounts to heresy and blasphemy and so must be religiously rebutted and vigorously defended by his loyal and faithful disciples.
Especially those in the media.
And yet the Vatican digs itself a deeper hole as Fr Federico Lombardi, the Pope's official spokesman, attempts to distance the Pope from the latest fracas. He insisted the remarks were ‘not the official position of the Church’ and the papal preacher had not been speaking ‘as a Vatican official’.
In what sense is the ‘Preacher to the Papal Household’ not a Vatican official?
Can Vatican non-officials get their sermons printed immediately in L’Osservatore Romano?
Can anyone preach in St Peter’s Basilica?
Cranmer would be delighted to accept an invitation.
The greater tragedy for the Vatican’s (wholly inadequate) media communications office is that, once again, one is left with the perception of deflection: the suffering of raped and tortured children is as nothing compared to the sorrow and frustration presently being endured by the Holy Father: Christ’s Calvary is Benedict’s; Christ’s passion is Benedict’s. And while ‘there is sufficient talk outside of here’ of pederasty, we must make sure ‘there is sufficient talk inside of here’ of the real victim.
And the Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps sensing his moment, has waded into the rumpus. With a most uncharacteristically forthright intervention, completely devoid of his usual interminable nuances and without regard to ecumenical niceties, he has stated that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has ‘lost all credibility’ because of the child abuse scandal.
Perhaps he is more than a little sick of his Roman Catholic cousins forever telling him that his own church has 'lost all credibility' over women priests and bishops and the issue of homosexuality.
In the strongly worded counter-rebuke, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who has called for full accountability in his church over child abuse, said he had rarely felt so personally discouraged. "The unequivocal and unqualified comment in a radio interview of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that the Catholic Church in Ireland has 'lost all credibility' has stunned me," Archbishop Martin said.
(Not as stunned, perhaps, as Anglicans were when Cardinal Ratzinger told us that our church was not a church 'in the proper sense'. Or even as stunned as Anglicans were when Cardinal Ivan Dias told us the Church of England suffered from 'spiritual Alzheimer's' and 'ecclesial Parkinson's'.)
At least the Archbishop of Canterbury is open about doctrinal difficulties and his church's failing. Are not women priests preferable to pederast priests? And are not debates about the role of homosexuals in the church infinitely preferable to homosexual child-rape in the rectory?
And he pointedly refused to give his blessing to those Anglo-Catholics who intend to accept the Pope’s offer of a ‘personal ordinariate’ and cross the Tiber. He said: “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal for the Church of England.” He predicted that just a few people would accept the offer. “They will take advantage of it because they believe they ought to be in communion with the Bishop of Rome. I can only say fine, God bless them. I don’t at the moment. So we proceed on that basis and we talk with, I hope, a level of mutual respect on that basis.”
The Archbishop did not quite say ‘Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the rang'd empire fall!’. But he might as well have done.
It will not have escaped Dr Williams’ notice that Pope Benedict is to make the first ever papal state visit to the UK in September, and that he will be addressing the British Parliament on moral values and society.
And he will do so from the very spot where Sir Thomas More, the patron saint of politicians, was tried and condemned for treason (or, if you prefer, martyred for his faith).
It is difficult to lecture politicians on religio-political morality when one’s own is so much in question.
Dr Williams appears to be more than a little indifferent to the papal visit. He said: “The Pope will be coming here to Lambeth Palace. We’ll have the bishops together to meet him. I’m concerned that he has the chance to say what he wants to say in and to British society, that we welcome him as a valued partner and, you know, that’s… that’s about it.”
That’s about it?
My, how these Christians love one another.