The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa said in a Good Friday homily with the pope listening in St. Peter's Basilica that a Jewish friend wrote to him to say the accusations remind him of the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism."
The 82-year-old pontiff looked weary as he sat near the central altar during the early evening prayer service a few before he was scheduled to take part in a candlelit Way of the Cross procession near the Colosseum which commemorates Christ's suffering before his crucifixion.
Thousands of Holy Week pilgrims were in St. Peter's Square as the church defends itself against accusations that Benedict had a role in covering up sex abuses cases.
The "coincidence" that Passover falls in the same week as Easter celebrations, said Cantalamessa, a Franciscan who offers reflections at Vatican Easter and Advent services, prompted him to think about 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," the preacher said.
Quoting from the letter from the friend, who wasn't identified by Cantalamessa, the preacher said that he was following "'with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful of the whole world.'"
"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,"' Cantalamessa said his friend wrote him.
In the sermon, he referred to the sexual abuse of children by clergy, saying "unfortunately, not a few elements of the clergy are stained" by the violence." But Cantalamessa said he didn't want to dwell on the abuse of children, saying "there is sufficient talk outside of here."
Benedict didn't speak after the homily, but, in a tired-sounding voice, chanted prayers. He leaned up to remove a red cloth covering a tall crucifix, which was passed to him by an aide. He took off his shoes, knelt and prayed before the cross.
For pilgrims, the credibility crisis over the pope's record on combatting clergy abuse of minors didn't color their Holy Week activities in Rome.
Anne Rossier of Boston, Massachusetts, said the moment was "difficult" and that "lots of people have been turned against the church" but "we could not have been in a better place right now for Easter."
Boston was at the epicenter of sex abuse lawsuits and allegations that U.S. bishops in many dioceses shuffled pedophile priests from parish to parish instead of removing them from contact with the faithful. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, at the center of the storm, resigned as archbishop, to be assigned to a prestigious post in Rome by the late Pope John Paul II.
Tourists snapped photos and strolled through St. Peter's Square on a breezy, sunny day. Valeria Misuri, 38, from Livorno, Italy, studied a map in the square as she visited Rome with her family.
"I haven't let the recent scandals change how special this place is at this time for me," said Misuri. "The church is made up of men, and men have always erred and will always continue to do so."
Pointing heavenward, she said: "In the end, the conscience lies there."