Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Easter yesterday.(Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

A senior Vatican official told the crowd at a Good Friday service over there that the widespread criticism of the Catholic Church over its alleged systematic cover-up of clerical pedophilia put him in mind of anti-Semitism. “I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole word,” said the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, quoting a letter from a Jewish friend. “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.”

(“The more shameful aspects”? As opposed to the less shameful aspects??)

“They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” he also said.

OK, so before we take totally legitimate and rightful umbrage, Cantalamessa was not saying that the critics’ case against the Church was exactly as unfounded (or founded, if that’s your thing!) as anti-Semites’ case against the Jews. He acknowledged the problem of “violence against children, of which unfortunately also elements of the clergy are stained.” Cantalamessa’s caveat was with these critics’ notion of collective responsibility: Just as an anti-Semite falsely and maliciously believes that all Jews are somehow responsible for the behavior of a single Jew, he is apparently arguing that these critics falsely and maliciously believe that the whole Church is responsible for the acts of certain bad-apple priests.

Where Cantalamessa is outrageously wrong, of course—and not a little offensive—is that while anti-Semites believe that most Jews are involved in a global conspiracy to control events, the Catholic Church actually is a global, coherent agglomeration that in the past decades has in multiple places and taking orders from the top of the hierarchy moved to cover up, paper over, and otherwise tacitly sanction pedophilia.

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.

UPDATE: Apparently, if you can read Italian, then you’d know that this article reports that “certain Catholic circles” believe that much recent criticism of the Church comes from a “New York ‘Jewish lobby.’ ”

At Vatican Service, Persecution of Jews Is Invoked [NYT]