Pope Francis said Thursday that “one cannot kill in the name of God,” but freedom of expression has “limits,” answering questions about the French magazine Charlie Hebdo during a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines.
Acknowledging that free speech is a “fundamental human right,” he added that “you cannot insult the faith of others.” As an analogy, he gestured to his travel organizer Alberto Gasparri, who stood at his side, joking, “if Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.”
The pope is among those lampooned in Wednesday’s new edition of the magazine, released by the surviving members of its staff. Charlie Hebdo has long reflected a hostility of organized religion in French political culture, and the Catholic Church is a popular target for its crass brand of ridicule. (RELATED: This Is Why Jihadis Massacred Writers And Cartoonists At A French Humor Magazine)
Some have contrasted the pontiff’s remarks with earlier statements about the attacks in Paris, in which he said terrorism is inspired by a “deviant form of religion,” and that religious fundamentalism “eliminates God… turning him into a mere ideological pretext.” But others see his claims as an expression of Catholic teaching.
“Pope Francis’ comments are simply and obviously true,” said Matthew Schmitz, a Catholic who is deputy editor of the journal First Things, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There will always be some things that cannot be said. Pope Francis is trying to help secularists understand that blasphemy is a real thing that’s deeply and immediately felt by believers.” Moreover, “it’ll be impossible to understand how to have a broadly free and tolerant society unless you’re able to see the visceral way that blasphemy offends religious believers.”
Governments have been quick to uphold the absolute value of free speech in the wake of the Paris attacks. Nevertheless, French authorities have arrested 54 for hate speech since the attacks took place. (RELATED: Championing Free Speech, France Clamps Down On Incitement)
Journalists have often been accused of misinterpreting Francis’ statements, such as mistaking advice for the individual conscience as official doctrine. In the same press conference, answering a question about public security at official events, Francis admitted, “I have a defect: a good dose of carelessness.”
Finishing his answer to the French reporter who asked the original question, he suggested a more nuanced response: “let’s go to Paris, let’s speak clearly.”
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