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Pope Did Not Condone Paris Attack, Vatican Clarifies

© ServizioFotograficoOR/CPP

John Burger - published on 01/14/15

Francis used humorous example to show how people feel when their faith is mocked.

Pope Francis’ extemporaneous comments regarding last week’s attack on the office of a French satirical magazine should not be interpreted as condoning those attacks, a Vatican spokesman said today.

During an in-flight press conference on the way from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the Pope used a humorous example of punching someone after hearing an insult to his mother. The example clearly was meant as an analogy to the feelings of Muslims when someone insults their faith.

In an obvious reference to last week’s Islamic militant attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Pontiff reaffirmed that "killing in the name of God" is a real "aberration."

Questioned by a French journalist, the Pope explained that there are "limits" on freedom of expression. While he agreed that everyone has the "right," even the "duty, to speak his mind to help the common good," the Pope said there are limits.

"You have to have that freedom, but without offending," he said. "For it is true that we should not react violently, but if [Alberto Gasbarri, the organizer of papal trips, who was standing beside him], who is a great friend, said a bad word about my mother, he must expect to receive a punch. This is normal … We cannot cause, we cannot insult the faith of others, we can not make fun of faith."

In response to a flurry of journalists seeking clarification, Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica issued a statement saying:

The Pope’s expression is in no way intended to be interpreted as a justification for the violence and terror that took place in Paris last week.  The Pope’s words about Dr. Gasbarri were spoken colloquially and in a friendly, intimate matter among colleagues and friends on the journey.  His words mean that there are limits to humor and satire particularly in the ways that we speak about matters of faith and belief. Pope Francis’ response might be similar to something each of us has felt when those dearest to us are insulted or harmed. The Pope’s free style of speech, especially in situations like the press conference must be taken at face value and not distorted or manipulated.  The Pope has spoken out clearly against the terror and violence that occurred in Paris and in other parts of the world. Violence begets violence.  Pope Francis has not advocated violence with his words on the flight.

Charlie Hebdo, which has a long history of lampooning, even pornographically, not only Islam but Christianity as well, defied its attackers this week, publishing a cover cartoon of Muhammad shedding a tear and exclaiming, "Je suis Charlie."

And while the Pope stood up for the free speech right of Charlie Hebdo, its editors said that they do not want the support of the Catholic Church, according to the Catholic Herald. In an editorial published in the first issue following the killings, the staff poked fun at some of the public figures who had joined in shows of public support. The editorial said:

What made us laugh the most is that the bells of Notre Dame rang in our honor. We would like to send a message to Pope Francis…: We will only accept the bells of Notre Dame ringing in our honor when it is Femen who make them ring.

The editors were referring to the radical feminist group whose members have staged topless demonstrations in several European cathedrals.

The Pope is not the first religious figure to offer a mixed reaction to the Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris. Catholic League president Bill Donohue last week condemned to killing of 12 staff members of the magazine and five others persons but suggested that Charlie Hebdo had gone too far in its satire of Islam. “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned,” said Donohue, who has spent the past 25 years protesting insults leveled against the Catholic faith. At the same time, he said in a Jan. 7 statement, Muslims had a right to be angry about being “intentionally insulted” by the magazine.

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