Vatican priest suggests church persecuted
VATICAN CITY, April 2 (UPI) -- The Catholic Church is being persecuted over the priest sex abuse scandal, not unlike Jews have been persecuted, a Vatican priest said Friday.
The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa made the comparison during a Good Friday service attended by Pope Benedict XVI, The New York Times reported. Noting Easter and Passover came the same week this year, Cantalamessa said that prompted him to think of the 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," he said.
The Times said he went on to quote from a letter from an unnamed Jewish friend.
"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."
Cantalamessa's comments follow recent statements by Catholic bishops denouncing news reports the pope didn't move decisively against pedophile priests when he was an archbishop in Germany and a high-ranking official in the Vatican.
A Vatican spokesman said the sermon was not "an official statement" from the Vatican but Cantalamessa's personal thoughts about a Jewish friend's show of "solidarity."
The Rev. Federico Lombardi said it would be wrong to interpret the remarks as comparing criticism of the Catholic Church with anti-Semitism.
"I don't think it's an appropriate comparison," he said. "That's why the letter should be read as a letter of solidarity by a Jew."
White House troubled by Karzai remarks
WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed surprise Friday he had stirred up a hornet's nest with his criticism of the foreign military presence in his country.
Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters the Obama administration wanted Karzai to clarify the "genuinely troubling" remarks he had made Thursday, The Washington Post reported.
Western nations and the United Nations, Karzai said Thursday, have tried to undermine his authority and engineered voter fraud in the country's most recent presidential election. Without mentioning the United States specifically, he said they want a "puppet government" in Afghanistan.
His statements came within days of Obama's visit to Afghanistan where the U.S. president had pressed Karzai to do more to end corruption and take other steps to bring about a stronger democracy.
Administration officials told The New York Times Karzai called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to say he wasn't criticizing the United States but rather Western news coverage of Afghanistan.
"He initiated the call after learning there was great consternation in Washington," a senior official said.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Clinton told the Afghan leader the Obama administration is "prepared to stay focused on the work ahead."
The conversation between Clinton and Karzai lasted about 25 minutes.
Group seeks U.S. governors' ouster
WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- A group calling itself Guardians of the Free Republics is calling for governors across the United States to step down within three days, authorities say.
The New York Times reported Friday governors across the nation said they had received the group's letters demanding they resign. The newspaper said the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security confirmed they had issued a memorandum to state authorities about the situation.
CNN reported the note states "law enforcement should be aware that this could be interpreted as a justification for violence or other criminal actions." An unnamed Homeland Security official told the Times there was no evidence of "an immediate or credible threat."
"No specific information indicates that violence is intended," the official said. "These threat assessments are issued regularly out of an abundance of caution."
The Guardians of the Free Republics' Web site offers a plan to "restore America" by "regaining control quietly, efficiently and quickly without provoking controversy, ridicule, violence or civil war." It says the plan was mapped out "after a year of face-to-face negotiations with high-ranking members of the armed forces."
The Homeland Security note says the group's plan proposes "establishing bogus courts, calling of 'de jure' grand juries, and issuing so-called 'legal orders' to gain control of the state."
The group's Web site includes a recruiting letter Sam Kennedy, a talk-show personality who is host of "Take No Prisoners" on the Republic Broadcasting Network, a satellite, shortwave, and Internet radio operation in Texas.
The Christian Science Monitor reported it was told by the network's John Stadtmiller that Kennedy was interviewed by FBI agents for two hours Friday. Stadtmiller said Kennedy "is the focal point of this, these guardians."
"He was in the mix in setting this whole thing up, and he's up to his eyeballs in this Restore America project," Stadtmiller said. "I talked to Kennedy a half-hour ago and ... I told him I'm getting a lot of heat, that you stirred the pot here, and that your plan for how to deal with the media and let them know what is going on has failed miserably."
Steele still has Pawlenty's support
ST. PAUL, Minn., April 2 (UPI) -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Friday he still backs Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele despite the party's donor scandal.
Pawlenty, touted by some as a GOP presidential prospect for 2012, credited Steele with taking responsibility for the party's decision to reimburse donors who held an event at a bondage-themed Los Angeles nightclub, The Hill reported.
In an appearance on NBC's "Today" show, Pawlenty called paying for the donor event "a terrible incident, a stupid thing."
"There's people involved with really bad judgment and they did not have the controls in place to catch it and to flag it," Pawlenty said. "So he has to take responsibility for that. They've done that, they have fired the employee. It's something that should not have happened on Michael's watch. But he's taken responsibility for it; hopefully they can improve and continue on. And I believe they will."
The Minnesota governor responded affirmatively when asked if Steele still has his support. That distinguishes him from some GOP lawmakers who have harshly criticized Steele, and other Republicans who have sought his resignation, The Hill noted.