A week after the massacre at the headquarters of a French publication known for insulting adherents of several faiths, Pope Francis told reporters that freedom of expression has its limits when it comes to insulting religion.
Or, he joked, his mom.
Calling freedom of expression a “fundamental” human right, the pope outlined why he believes there are limits to that right. If someone “says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” he joked, according to an Associated Press translation. “It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
Despite joking about his mother, Francis also condemned violent retaliation. “One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion — that is, in the name of God,” the pope said. “To kill in the name of God is an aberration.”
Francis was speaking in Italian aboard the papal plane, on the way from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the pope was responding to a question about freedom of speech and religion in general. But acknowledging that the reporter asking the question was French, Pope Francis indicated that his response applied specifically to the attacks. “Let’s go to Paris, let’s speak clearly,” he said, according to NCR.
“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 Vatican press office said in a later statement, addressing Francis’s remarks. The statement adds, “the Pope’s free style of speech, especially in situations like the press conference must be taken a 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,” the statement continues, “Violence begets violence. Pope Francis has not advocated violence with his words on the flight.”
Days ago, Francis denounced the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the “deviant forms of religion” he said were behind them. “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext,” he said, according to the AP.
Following the massacre in Paris, Bill Donohue, president of the U.S.-based Catholic League, criticized Charlie Hebdo’s history of offending the world’s religiously devout and said of the publication’s slain editor, Stephane Charbonnier: “Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive.” The Catholic League is a conservative, independent Catholic group headquartered in New York.
[This post has been updated to include a Vatican statement on Pope Francis’s remarks]