Pope Benedict XVI presides over the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession on Good Friday in Rome, Friday, April 2, 2010. The evening Via Crucis procession at the ancient amphitheater is a Rome tradition that draws a large crowd of faithful, including many of the pilgrims who flock to the Italian capital for Holy Week ceremonies before Easter Sunday. The Canadian Press
Two of Canada's largest Jewish groups say they are outraged that the Pope's personal preacher would compare the uproar over sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church with anti-Semitic persecution.
Frank Dimant, chief executive officer of B'nai Brith Canada, called it "a very unwise choice of analogies and verbiage."
Bernie Farber, chief executive officer for the Canadian Jewish Congress and a child of Holocaust survivors, said such comparisons "trivialize the history of the persecution of the Jews."
At a solemn Good Friday service, Pope Benedict's personal preacher, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, compared the wide-ranging accusations against the pontiff and the church to "collective violence" suffered by the Jews.
While delivering his homily, Cantalamessa quoted a letter from a Jewish friend saying, "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."
Although a Vatican spokesman has said Cantalamessa's remarks are not an official position of the Catholic Church, the comments aren't sitting well with the Jewish community in Canada and abroad.
"The most shameful aspect of anti-Semitism was the Holocaust," Dimant said. "That's the ultimate shame of anti-Semitism."
Dimant added that the fact Cantalamessa was quoting from a letter from a Jew made no difference. "It's a very inappropriate choice of words."
News of the Cantalamessa's remarks spread like wildfire across the global Jewish community.
"It's rippled right around the world," said Farber. "This has taken on quite a significant tone. Such comparisons just send shivers down your spine."
Farber said his organization has rejected Cantalamessa's comparison outright. "It disrespects the victims and it cheapens their suffering," he said.
"When anti-Semitism is used like this as a metaphor, for any sort of unpleasantness, its lessons are diminished."
Farber added, however, that news of the Vatican distancing itself from Cantalamessa's remarks was welcome.
"I think that the Vatican reacted so quickly, is good news."
The Pope and the Catholic Church have faced a slew of allegations in recent weeks that the pontiff has covered up sex abuse cases by members of the church for years.
The Vatican has said the church is being singled out and collectively stereotyped for the problem of pedophilia, which it says is a society-wide issue.
But victims say Benedict - both as a former archbishop of Munich and later as a Vatican cardinal directing the Holy See's policy on handling abuse cases - was part of a culture of confidentiality that protected the church hierarchy.