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Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher apologized Sunday for comparing recent attacks against the pontiff and the Catholic church over a sexual abuse scandal, to the persecution of Jews.

"If against my every will and intention I hurt the sensibility of Jews and of the victims of pedophilia, then I am sincerely sorry and I apologize," Father Raniero Cantalamessa told Milan daily Corriere della Sera.

Cantalamessa was referring to a sermon he gave at a Good Friday ceremony in St Peter's Basilica that triggered a wave of protests.

Cantalamessa also said neither Benedict, who was present at the ceremony, nor any other Vatican official, had prior knowledge of the contents of his sermon.

"The Pope not only did not inspire (the sermon) but as with everyone else heard my words for the first time during the (Good Friday) liturgy in St Peter's," Cantalamessa said.

During the sermon read Cantalamessa read from a letter in which a Jewish friend referred to accusations against Benedict and the Catholic church over the handling of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Cantalamessa's friend, who was not cited by name, wrote that he was "following with disgust the violent and concentric attacks against the Church and the Pope," which reminded him of "the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism".

Many Jewish leaders around the world reacted with outrage, with some calling the comparison "obscene," and "offensive". Representatives of victims of sexual abuse by priests also condemned the analogy.

Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, said the remarks were particularly insensitive because they were made on the day that for centuries Christians prayed for the conversion of the Jews, who were once held collectively responsible for Jesus' death.

Cantalamessa said he had included the excerpt from the letter in his sermon as an example of "solidarity with the Pope."