The treatment of the Pope over the child sex-scandal bedevilling the Catholic Church was compared last night to the Holocaust.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pope Benedict's personal preacher, made the claim during a Good Friday address at St Peter's Basilica, in the Vatican. He said, as the Pope sat listening, that the attacks on the Pope and the Church were comparable to the persecution suffered by the Jews who "know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence" and are thus "quick to recognise the recurring symptoms".
Father Cantalamessa told the congregation he had received a letter from a Jewish friend who was "following with disgust the violent attacks against the Church and the Pope". His friend had written: "The use of stereotypes and the shifting of personal responsibility to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism."
The comments came after accusations that the Pope, Vatican and Catholic Church covered up child sex-abuse by members of the clergy and did too little to protect victims over several decades. Pope Benedict, who has yet to respond personally to the allegations, headed a unit that looked into child abuse. Supporters maintain he led Church attempts to crack down but others claim he mishandled or covered up abuse.
The controversy deepened yesterday when Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg in Germany, the Pope's homeland, said clerics failed to help abuse-victims properly because they wanted to protect the Church.
As Christians around the world commemorated Good Friday, Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, said the Church of England needed to open itself up to new ways of spreading its message. Some clergy had already begun reaching out to the community by deliberately organising events in pubs, but there needed to be a more widespread take-up of such ideas, he suggested.
He told GMTV that, now, "instead of simply advising people to come to our buildings and our churches, people are doing it in a new way and going to many places. I've actually gone and had debates in pubs and they used to draw quite a lot of people. I think we've got to find a way of getting our message across."
Dr Sentamu spoke out as a survey suggested that fewer than half of 10-year-olds were aware of the religious significance of Easter. Close to 30 per cent believed it was to celebrate the Easter bunny's birthday.
In Jerusalem pilgrims carried wooded crosses to commemorate the crucifixion. The rituals were focused around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Easter usually falls on different dates for Orthodox Christians than for Catholics and Protestants, but this year it coincides and they were able to commemorate Good Friday together in Jerusalem.