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Pope Did Not Condone Paris Attack, Vatican Clarifies

Pope Francis during the press conference on the papal flight – CPP – en

© 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.

Today, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II said the cartoons depicting Muhammad are "offensive" and any insult must be rejected "at all levels."

"I refuse any form of personal insult, and when the insult is related to religions, they cannot be approved, neither at a human nor at a moral and social level," said the Egyptians Patriarch, according to Fides. "They do not help peace in the world, and do not produce any benefit."

Added Anba Antonios Aziz Mina, Coptic Catholic Bishop of Guizeh, "The cartoons are glorified as an expression of freedom. But true freedom is always responsible. It does not offend gratuitously, it does not hurt others, especially when speaking of religion and faith. Maybe one should not give importance to these derisions, and not have reactions that are then manipulated and misrepresented as obscurantism."

During his in-flight press conference, the Pope was also asked about the threat of Islamic terrorism against him and the Vatican. He said he was initially "concerned" for the faithful, adding: "I’m afraid, but you know, I have a default: I have a good dose of unawareness."

However, he said he asked God that if he was murdered he’d be granted the grace "not to suffer." Smiling to reporters, he quipped, "I’m not very brave in the face of pain!"

In the news conference, Francis also announced his plans to publish an encyclical on the environment and to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra when he travels to the United States in September. Explaining that several times he authorized a beatification or canonization without the requirement of a miracle—to honor "great evangelizers" such as François de Laval (1623-1708) in Canada or Father Joseph Vaz (1651-1711), Indian missionary in Sri Lanka beatified yesterday in Colombo—he said that he intended to canonize the Spanish Franciscan during his trip to the United States in September.

Though Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Junipero, no miracle has been accepted yet for his canonization. Francis already has canonized several saints by "equipollent canonization," which he explained as a declaration that is "used when over many years a man or a woman is blessed, and is venerated by the People of God, and in practice this person is venerated as a saint…. These are people who for centuries, perhaps, are in this way."

Now in September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States. He was the evangelizer of the West in the United States. These are people who did a lot of evangelization and who are in line with the spirituality and theology of
Evangelii Gaudium, that is the reason why I chose them.

Pope Francis also said he would publish an encyclical on human ecology in June or July. He said he recently submitted a draft to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the theologian of the Pontifical Household, to be sure not to say "nonsense." The Pope said he wanted this magisterial  document published before the World Climate Summit to be held in Paris next December. Noting the failure of the last summit in Lima, Peru, the Pope said, "Hopefully in Paris, representatives will be more courageous."

Here are the Pope’s remarks on religious freedom and freedom of expression:

Yesterday morning, during Mass, you spoke of religious freedom as a fundamental human right. In respect to different religions, how far can we go in terms of freedom of expression? Is it too a fundamental human right?

Thank you for this intelligent question. I think that both are of fundamental human rights: freedom of religion and freedom of expression. You can not … You’re French, no? So let’s speak about Paris…. Everyone has the right to practice his religion without freely, without being offended, and we all want to do well.

Second, we cannot offend, make war, to kill in the name of religion, that is to say the name of God.

What happens now surprises us, but always think of our history: How many religious wars have we known! Just think of the night of St. Bartholomew. How to understand this? We too have been sinners in this area, but cannot kill in the name of God. It is an aberration. Killing in the name of God is an aberration. I think this is the main point, on religious freedom: it must be done with liberty, no offense, but without imposing or killing.

Freedom of expression … Not only does everyone have the freedom, the right and also the obligation to speak his mind to help the common good, but an obligation. If we think legislators or others are not working for the common good, we have an obligation to say so openly. You have to have that freedom, but without offending. For it is true that we should not react violently, but if Mr. Gasbarri [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.

Pope Benedict, in a speech which I do not remember well [the famous Regensburg speech] spoke of the post-positivist mentality, this post-positivist metaphysics that led ultimately to belief that religions or religious expressions are a kind of subculture: they are tolerated but they are insignificant, they are not in the culture of the Enlightenment. This is a legacy of the Enlightenment.

There are so many people who speak ill of religions, who laugh, who play around with the religion of others. Those cause … and it can happen what would happen to Mr. Gasbarri if he said anything against my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity, every religion that respects human life and man, and I can not make fun of it…. it’s a limit. I took example of the limit to say that in terms of freedom of expression there are limits, like the story of my mother.

This article contains reporting by Antoine-Marie Izoard of I.MEDIA and by Fides News Agency. 

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