Friday, April 02, 2010

Of Anti-Semitism and "Collective Guilt"

Still reeling from sexual abuse allegations that have implicated the entire Church, up to and including the Pope, the Vatican is now claiming that public attacks against it are reminiscent of classic anti-Semitism:
As the pope listened, Cantalamessa read the congregation a part of a letter he received from a Jewish friend, who said he was "following with disgust the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the pope..."

"The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," he quoted from the letter.

Of course, it is true that the shift from personal to collective responsibility is a hallmark of anti-Semitism.* But that's not what's going on here. The allegations against the Catholic Church are that the body's institutional hierarchy, including then-Cardinal Ratzinger, has been complicit in the perpetuation of massive amounts of sexual abuse against children. It doesn't stop being "personal guilt" because lots of people are guilty. Many institutional actors in the Catholic Church were aware of this abuse, in a position to respond, but failed to do so. For that, they are guilty. And unlike Jews, who lack a formal corporate organization, Catholicism organizes itself as a unified hierarchy, which does mean that, insofar as the organization was aware of this behavior, the organization can rightfully be seen as carrying some measure of responsibility.

I don't apologize for saying that. And I think it neither anti-Catholic, nor reminiscent of anti-Semitism, to say so.

* Fun thought experiment: Here's a way to reveal how much you think anti-Semitism disappeared. Let's say a DA started getting pretty aggressive in subpoenaing Church officials (including potentially the Pope), and filing indictments against the guilty actor. Do you think it would be seen as relevant if the DA was Jewish? Because I certainly do -- and it's a fact that would not be presented in a benign way.

UPDATE: The pastor has apologized to both Jews and pedophilia victims.


chingona said...

I'll just throw in that I'm as skeptical about the existence of this Jewish friend as I am of Sarah Palin's gay friends.

And I'll leave you with this quote from a Georgetown Vatican expert.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, an expert on the Vatican based at Georgetown University in Washington, also criticized Cantalamessa’s homily as “not helpful.”

“You know, you wish that people in the Vatican had at least some idea of how what they say will be perceived by an audience outside of the Vatican clergy,” he said.

Thomas said...

I'll agree with you on every point, without exception. The church hierarchy has (unsurprisingly) failed completely in the mission that rationalizes their existence.

julio said...

I think given the charge of anti-Semitism must take the blame and I think part of the charge of the church is not wanting to take the blame.

joe said...

In American society, at least, I think if a prosecutor got that aggressive, the PR tactics of most organized religions is to (often frivolously) claim persecution. That's why almost every response to criticism I hear from the Mormon Church is that outsiders can't possibly understand the church or be qualified to judge its practices. (This is especially comical when it's directed at ex-Mormons on the grounds that their falling out proves they never really understood the church, which is why they're now outsiders.)

That's not to say you wouldn't have private conversations among the Church's defenders where the prosecutor being Jewish wouldn't be treated as relevant. But if by "seen as relevant," you mean publicly pointed to as suggesting impropriety, than no, I don't think it's a good test at all because, to those buying into it, it would suggest Anti-Semitism has disappeared far more than I believe to be the case.

chingona said...

I have to admit, joe, that I didn't quite follow the last bit of your comment. Too many clauses in one sentence, I think.

FWIW, we've already had this:

Father Cantalamessa’s remarks come after weeks of intense scrutiny of Benedict, which some in the Italian news media have seen in conspiratorial terms. Last week, the center-left daily newspaper La Repubblica wrote , without attribution, that “certain Catholic circles” believed the criticism of the church stemmed from “a New York ‘Jewish lobby.”

That's from the NYT's article on the speech. Hmmm. Maybe the NYT IS the "New York Jewish lobby."

PG said...

I'll just throw in that I'm as skeptical about the existence of this Jewish friend as I am of Sarah Palin's gay friends.

Palin documented her lesbian friend Kim "Tilly" Ketchum in "Going Rogue." She was a junior high school friend with whom Palin lived in college, and judging by her Facebook page is a Palin supporter. If she doesn't exist, someone has gone to a lot of effort to fake her existence.

libhom said...

Comparing being Jewish to protecting serial child rapists is sickening. Ratzi and his klan of monsters are completely amoral.

chingona said...

My bad, PG. I hadn't read Going Rogue.

joe said...

chingona, it's best rephrased in two parts. 1) David's proposed test is nebulous, because we don't know who needs to see the hypothetical prosecutor's Judaism "as relevant." (David presents this as a binary relevant/not relevant question even though he's looking for a quantified answer of "how much you think Anti-Semitism has disappeared.") But that's a hazard of passive voice, so I went ahead to assume he means "brought up in the public discourse as relevant."

2) Now, I don't think it would be mentioned much in mainstream outlets (except to the extent that an organized religion will circle the wagons against any outside criticism). Therefore I don't like David's test. I think society is more Anti-Semitic than it would indicate. This is all with the caveat that when I say mainstream outlets I'm confining that assessment to the American media. I'm provincial like that, but I try to acknowledge the limitation.

But this is more words than this particular nitpick really deserves. I agree with David's substantive point. The Church is making weak and fallacious excuses.

word verification: gotypile

Anonymous said...

If Father so-and-so at the Vatican preaches a sermon making the comparison, why is it then right to say that "the Vatican itself" made the claim? Was not Father so-and-so speaking only in his capacity as Father so and so?

joe said...

Anon, officially you may be correct. As a practical matter does the Reverend give this sermon in the heart of the Vatican, in front of the pope, if he is not expressing a widely held sentiment among his peers and superiors?

PG said...


You can get most of what there is to know in "Going Rogue" from what's available from the "search inside this book" feature on Amazon. I didn't feel the need to line Sarah Palin's pockets.