A retired Italian bishop has provoked fury by reportedly suggesting that “Zionists” are behind the current storm of accusations over clerical sex abuse shaking the Vatican and the Catholic Church.
Monsignor Giacomo Babini, the Bishop Emeritus of Grossetto, was quoted by the Italian Roman Catholic website Pontifex as saying he believed a “Zionist attack” was behind the criticism of the Pope, given that it was “powerful and refined” in nature.
Bishop Babini denied he had made any anti-Semitic remarks. He was backed by the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), which issued a declaration by Bishop Babini in which he said: “Statements I have never made about our Jewish brothers have been attributed to me.”
However, Bruno Volpe, who interviewed Monsignor Babini for Pontifex, confirmed that the bishop had made the statement, which was reported widely in the Italian press today. Pontifex threatened to release the audio tape of the interview as proof.
Monsignor Babini’s reported comments follow a series of statements from senior Vatican cardinals blaming a “concerted campaign” by “powerful lobbies” for accusations that Pope Benedict XVI was involved in covering up cases of clerical abuse both as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982 and subsequently as head of doctrine at the Vatican.
None has explicitly blamed Jews or any other group. However Bishop Babini, 81, said Jews “do not want the Church, they are its natural enemies”. He added: “Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are deicides [God killers].”
He was quoted as saying that Hitler was “not just mad” but had exploited German anger over the excesses of German Jews who in the 1930s had throttled the German economy.
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee said Monsignor Babini was using “slanderous stereotypes, which sadly evoke the worst Christian and Nazi propaganda prior to World War Two”.
Giovanni Maria Vian, the Editor of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said there was a media campaign against the Pope but suggestions that Jews were behind it were ridiculous.
Speaking to the foreign press corps in Rome, Mr Vian pointed out that L’Osservatore Romano had reprinted remarks made in the Jerusalem Post by Ed Koch, the Jewish former mayor of New York, in which he said that continuing attacks by the media on the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI were “manifestations of anti-Catholicism”.
Mr Koch said that he disagreed with the Catholic Church on abortion, homosexuality, divorce and contraception. But the Church had a right to hold such beliefs, and “much of the attack on it today stems from opposition to those teachings”.
He added: “Many of those in the media who are pounding on the Church and the Pope today clearly do it with delight and some with malice.
“I believe the Roman Catholic Church is a force for good in the world, not evil. Enough is enough.
“Yes, terrible acts were committed by members of the Catholic clergy. The Church has paid billions to victims in the US and will pay millions, perhaps billions, more to other such victims around the world. It is trying desperately to atone for its past by its admissions and changes in procedures for dealing with paedophile priests.”
There were Jewish protests at Easter when Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, compared attacks on the Pope to the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism” in his Good Friday reflections before Pope Benedict in the Vatican.
The Vatican later said the Pope had not been aware in advance of Father Cantalamessa’s remarks, which did not represent the Vatican’s views.
Today Mr Vian said Father Cantalamessa’s observations had been innocent in intention, though whether it had been prudent to make them in the current climate was another matter.
Pope Benedict, who visited the Rome synagogue in January, has sought to mend Catholic-Jewish relations since last year, when he offended Jewish groups by rehabilitating Bishop Richard Williamson, an excommunicated ultra-conservative prelate who denies that six million Jews died in the Holocaust.
The Pope said he was unaware of Bishop Williamson’s views and demanded that he rescind them.
However, the pontiff has also angered Jewish leaders with his continuing support for the beatification of Pope Pius XII, the wartime Pope who is charged by critics with having turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. Beatification is the step before sainthood.
On Friday Benedict watched a preview of a forthcoming programme to be shown by RAI, the state broadcaster, which praises Pius XII for his role in helping to save Jews behind the scenes in wartime Rome, and is said by aides to have expressed his approval.