On Good Friday, of all days, the Pope's priest, of all people, stirs blood memories of hatred by invoking Jews as "victims of collective violence" to bewail his spiritual leader's ordeal of criticism for failing to protect the victims of ordained pedophile predators.
As quickly as the Vatican has moved to distance itself from this crackpot comparison, it reverberates in the mind of one who, as a child 80 years ago, was beaten by an enraged bigger boy, never before seen, from a Catholic neighborhood.
An older friend of mine explained, "They say we killed Christ." "Did we?" I asked. "How the hell should I know?" he shrugged. "It happened a million years ago."
This Easter weekend's brouhaha, following Vatican complaints against the New York Times for "its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI," brings a flash-forward to the 1950s when my college classmate Abe Rosenthal began to write bylined stories for the paper and was told to pick a middle initial, even though he had none.
The Sulzbergers, the owners, were sensitive about Jewish-sounding bylines, and so my friend became A. M. Rosenthal, just as a decade earlier another fine reporter had morphed into A. H. Raskin. If the Great Emancipator had been writing for the Times then, he would have been known as "A. B. Lincoln."
Now, more than half a century later, for one shaped by such experiences, it's hard not to see a subtext of all this in the statement of a Cardinal close to the Pontiff that the Times reporting of his failure in the child abuse scandal and an editorial were ""deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness."
That editorial said: "Pope Benedict XVI’s latest apology for the emerging global scandal of child abuse by predatory priests--an issue that the Roman Catholic Church should have engaged years ago--is strong on forgiveness but far short of the full accountability that Catholics need for repairing their damaged church."
Would the Vatican have seen an "attack mode" in such words from a newspaper not famously owned by a Jewish family, and would the Pope's priest have chosen to read a letter by any other than a "Jewish friend" to point out that 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”?
Catholics themselves will have to decide on the merits of the priestly abuse scandal but, just this once, is it too much to ask that Jews be excused from being dragged into someone else's mess as, forgive the ethnicity, red herrings?