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A senior Vatican priest has compared the investigation of sexual abuse claims against the Catholic Church to the persecution of the Jews, prompting a backlash from victims' advocates and Jewish groups.

A spokesperson quickly distanced the Vatican from the comments by the Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa (pictured) but reiterated that the church felt under attack by media reports over how it handed charges of child molestation by priests in the past.

"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," Cantalamessa said while speaking in St. Peter's Basilica last week. Then he quoted from what he said was a letter from a Jewish friend he did not identify.

"I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope, and all the faithful by the whole world," he said the friend wrote. "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."

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