Fr Raniero CantalamessaIn normal times Pope
Benedict would be pleased as punch to see journalists hanging on every word of
a sermon on Good Friday, the most solemn penitential day in the Christian
calendar. And even more pleased if it were reported on the
front page of the New York Times
. But not this time.

The Pope’s preacher Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, spent most of his sermon in St
Peter’s Basilica speaking about the violence that permeates our society. He
mentioned school bullying, gang fights and violent video games but he lavished most
of his considerable rhetorical energy on denouncing domestic violence. This is
not exactly a theme that most Catholics expect in a Good Friday sermon, still
less in the presence of the Pope. Father Cantalamessa even made the startling
suggestion that the Church formally ask for forgiveness for violence committed
by men against women. 

But journalists woke up only when they heard
the closing two paragraphs in the 25-paragraph sermon. Father Cantalamessa said
in his round-about way that Jews “know from experience what it means to be
victims of collective violence” and that a Jewish friend of his had compared
the campaign against the Pope to anti-Semitism. He quoted from the unidentified
friend’s letter:

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.”

Jewish groups and victims of abuse groups
were outraged. “How can you compare the collective guilt assigned to the
Jews which caused the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people to
perpetrators who abuse their faith and their calling by sexually abusing
children?” asked
Rabbi Marvin Hier
of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the international Jewish
rights group.

Defenders of the Pope will sigh that the furious
reaction to tactless and insensitive throw-away sentences from a Vatican
preacher whom no one has ever heard of is utterly disproportionate. But in a
way it is highly significant. This is the first time since the beginning of the
crisis that the media has begun to calibrate the evil of priestly sex abuse. This
latest incident has established that it is not as bad as the Holocaust – in
case anyone thought it was. At the same time, in comparison to child sex abuse
by priests, of which there were 6 alleged
cases in the US last year
, the domestic violence which affects between a
quarter and a half of the world’s women (a conservative estimate) is a fairly
inconsequential issue.

Perhaps that’s why the
New York Times has spent so little time highlighting the scandal of domestic
violence recently. It’s not really that big a deal, after all.

PS – could somebody
please give Father Cantalamessa some media training?

UPDATE: Father Cantalamessa, told Corriere della
Sera in an interview on Sunday that he had no intention “of hurting
the sensibilities of the Jews and of the victims of pedophilia.” He said, “I have sincerely regretted and I ask forgiveness, reaffirming my solidarity with both” lobbies.


Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.