At today's Good Friday service at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, the preacher to the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, compared the criticisms of the Church over the sexual abuse of minors to the violent oppression of Jews.
Wearing the brown cassock of a Franciscan, Father Cantalamessa took note that Easter and Passover were falling during the same week this year, saying he was led to think of the Jews. "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 said.
Father Cantalamessa quoted from what he said was a letter from an unnamed Jewish friend. "I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole word," he said the friend wrote. "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."
On the day when the Church recognizes the torture and murder of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, it is particularly galling to see the criticism of the Church's actions compared to the "more shameful acts of anti-Semitism", which Father Cantalamessa knows well was often the torture and murder of Jews by official organs of the Church he represents. This shame is deepened by the report in the Italian paper La Repubblica this week that unnamed persons in "Catholic circles" are placing the blame for the attention paid to the scandal on a "Jewish lobby" in New York, citing the Sulzberger "Jewish dynasty" that owns the New York Times.
The inchoate response to the scandal by the Church is exemplified in the bizarre contradiction of those within the Church seeking to blame Jews for the scandal while at the same time claiming to be victims of anti-Semitism. Jews, sadly, must speak out strongly against this appropriation of the historical suffering of our people as a defense against the criticism of the Church.
Father Cantalamessa has been the preacher to the Papal Household for three decades. In that time, he has said many words that would be far more useful to the Church in this time than those he said today. Here are Father Cantalamessa's words of the exercise of power. May he, and those he preaches to, take them to heart.
Power, like money, is not intrinsically evil. God describes himself as "the Omnipotent" and Scripture says "power belongs to God" (Psalm 62:11).
However, given that man had abused the power granted to him, transforming it into control by the strongest and oppression of the weakest, what did God do?
To give us an example, God stripped himself of his omnipotence; from being "omnipotent," he made himself "impotent."
He "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). He transformed power into service. The first reading of the day contains a prophetic description of this "impotent" Savior. "He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth. ... He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity."
Thus a new power is revealed, that of the cross: "Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise" (1 Corinthians 1:27). In the Magnificat, Mary sings in advance this silent revolution brought by the coming of Christ: "He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones" (Luke 1:52).
Who is accused under this denunciation of power? Only dictators and tyrants? Would that it were so! It would refer, in this case, to exceptions. Instead, it affects us all. Power has infinite ramifications, it gets in everywhere, as certain sands of the Sahara when the sirocco wind blows. It even gets into the Church.
The problem of power, therefore, is not posed only in the political realm. If we stay in that realm, we do no more than join the group of those who are always ready to strike others' breast for their own faults. It is easy to denounce collective faults, or those of the past; it is far more difficult when it comes to personal and present faults.
Mary says that God "dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart; he has thrown down the rulers from their thrones" (Luke 1:51ff.). She singles out implicitly a precise area in which the "will to power" must be combated: our own hearts.
Our minds -- the thoughts of the heart -- can become a kind of throne on which we sit to dictate laws and thunder against those who do not submit to us. We are, at least in our wishes if not in deeds, the "mighty on thrones."
Sadly, in the family itself it is possible that our innate will to power and abuse might manifest itself, causing constant suffering to those who are victims of it, which is often -- not always -- the woman.
What does the Gospel oppose to power? Service: a power for others, not over others!
Power confers authority, but service confers something more, authority that means respect, esteem, a true ascendancy over others. The Gospel also opposes power with nonviolence, that is, power of another kind, moral, not physical power.
Jesus said that he could have asked the Father for twelve legions of angels to defeat his enemies who were just about to crucify him (Matthew 26:53), but he preferred to pray for them. And it was in this way that he achieved victory.
Service is not always expressed, however, in silence and submission to power. Sometimes it can impel one to raise one's voice against power and its abuses. This is what Jesus did. In his life he experienced the abuse of the political and religious power of the time. That is why he is close to all those -- in any environment (the family, community, civil society) --who go through the experience of an evil and tyrannical power.
With his help it is possible not "to be overcome by evil," as he was not -- more than that, to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).