Apr 3, 2010

Father Cantalamessa, Victims and Perpetrators

I could not believe my eyes yesterday, when I was reading. what the pious Father Cantalamessa had said about the accusations brought forth against the Roman Catholic Church in connection with the way church leaders used to deal with severe cases of sexual abuse by some members of the clergy. Father Cantalamessa, quoting a letter from a Jewish friend, compared these accusations to Anti-Semitism, even to some of its worst features. Let us believe the Padre: there is a Jewish friend of him, who really has written that. What does it tell us, then? That there are some people in the world, that claim to be Jews or are in fact Jews that do not have the slightest idea about what Anti-Semitism means.
Anti-Semitism is a kind of racism. We will not waste our time reflecting the strangeness of the word, rooted in the biblical story, that has all the ethnic groups of the world stemming from the sons of Noah: Sem, Ham or Japhet. This story in itself has been used by pious Christians in a racist way, declaring black-skinned people to be the offspring of Ham, and therefore , according to Gen 9, 24-25, cursed, their black skin being the outer sign of that inward curse - and a sign of their destiny as slaves by divine command. Nowadays, we call Semites those people that are native-speakers of one of the languages of the Semitic subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic languages. The word Anti-Semitism is a relict from the past, when it was used to designate people that share a racist attitude towards Jews. A racist attitude, to be short, consists in judging persons because of their belonging to a certain group, without taking into account his or her personal conduct of life, merits, virtues and vices. This can just be a judgement without any further implications than a general hostility towards members of that group. In its more severe sense - as it is the case in radical Anti-Semitism - it can mean to hold that group responsible for all the evils in the world, to build a conspiracy theory, according to which this group wants to rule or actually rules the world by evil means and, finally, to call for extinction of this group.
There are examples galore, that members of the catholic church have shared in the attitudes so described to a certain degree, most prominently, with respect to Jews. This clearly does not mean, that all Catholics would be Anti-Semites. Be that as it may, where could the parallel drawn by the Padre possibly have its “Sitz im Leben”? What could be the sense of it? One argument we are used to hear from racists goes like that: I knew a man who treated me/my relatives a.s.o. in a very bad manner. He was a Jew, a Chinese, a Japanese a.s.o. Therefore all Jews, Chinese, Japanese a.s.o. are bad people. This could be dealt with on the grounds of the rules for sound reasoning alone. In my humble opinion, this is also the only sound reasoning I can take out of Father Cantalamessa utterings: "Some Catholic priests have acted in a wrong way. This does not mean, that all Catholics are acting like that. People who argue, that all Catholics are like that on the grounds of some Catholics acting that way, are reasoning in an unsound way". This is so obvious, that he would not need to draw the parallel to Anti-Semitism to prove that. Everybody (but some stubborn racists) would understand. But he needs to draw that parallel in order to foster his conviction - held for some strange reasons - that the whole world is attacking the Roman Catholic Church because of a neglectable amount of "black sheep" we find within its precincts. In that respect, he is simply wrong. Some of the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are accused by some people - mostly victims of sexual abuse by representatives of this church. They accuse church-leaders of not having reacted in a proper way to those violations of human rights when they got informed about them. These very church officials seem to have protected the abusers instead of the abused. After all, we know, that this accusation
is not unfounded (to put it in a modest way), in contradistinction to global accusations brought forth by Anti-Semites against Jews simply for the reason of being of Jewish origin. Furthermore, an Anti-Semite is hostile to any person of Jewish descent because of belonging to an ethnic group (with the exception of the notorious “good Jewish friend” that every Anti-Semite is eager to call “his own”). This is not the case with respect to the accusations in question brought forth against some Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics are not an ethnic group in any sense of the word. As a rule (there are rare exceptions to be found, that can be interpreted as an introjection of outward prejudices) the victims of racism belong to another group than their offenders. In our case, many among those who accuse church authorities belong to the Roman Catholic Church or have at least belonged to it, before (more or less) deliberately havíng chosen to leave that church. No Jew subjected to Anti-Semitism can freely choose to change her or his "ethnic identity". Furthermore, victims and perpetrators have been members of that church, whose authorities have chosen, in order to uphold their image – or out of whatever reason –, to rather protect the perpetrators than their victims. In doing that, they seem to have shown some characteristic preferences held among church-leadership (at least of those having succeeded in internal negotiations).
Apparently, during his time as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the present pope has discharged some priests (mostly from so called third-world countries), solely on the grounds of perceived doctrinal dissenting, whilst keeping some known (!) child-abusers in their office, neglecting the rights of the victims of the latter. Instead of apologising and starting to change structures surpressing human rights within an institution that acts as an outspoken defender of human rights, these very structures are defended in public and the victims of sexual abuse and those who speak out on their behalf are held to be the perpetrators attacking the holy structures of the church and its officials.
For me, this is the saddening plot of Padre Cantalamessa’s sermon. I would not make much of it, if a local clergyman had argued like that over a bottle of wine in a pub in my home town. But I can in no way approve of a public sermon given by the official preacher of the papal household during Good Friday’s service, in the central church of Roman Catholicism in the very core of the church year following that train of thought and to have some representative of the Vatican say the next day: "this is not our official opinion". Hopefully, it is not!!!!. Please, SHOW, by acting in an adequate manner, that it is not!!!!Speechless am I, in this respect, not unlike the pope, but for other reasons, I guess.

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