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After Charlie Hebdo attack, U.S. Catholic group says cartoonists ‘provoked’ slaughter

A man holds a banner that reads in French "I am Charlie" during a vigil at the Old Harbor in Marseille on Jan. 7. (Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images)
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In the aftermath of the deadly assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, much of the world has rallied in solidarity with the publication, its irreverent cartoonists and their right to free speech.

But not everyone is so supportive. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a U.S. organization that "defends the rights of Catholics," issued a statement titled "Muslims are right to be angry." In it, Donohue criticized the publication's history of offending the world's religiously devout, including non-Muslims. The murdered Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier "didn’t understand the role he played in his [own] tragic death," the statement reads.

"Had [Charbonnier] not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive," Donohue says, in what must be one of the more offensive and insensitive comments made on this tragic day.

"Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated," says Donohue. "But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction."

The statement says Charlie Hebdo has "a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning" of religious figures. "They have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms," Donohue says. "They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses."

Among the covers is a too-racy-for-WorldViews depiction of the Christian Holy Trinity locked in a three-way homosexual orgy (as part of a critique of French religious leaders' opposition to gay marriage) and a whole array of images mocking pedophilia by priests.

Charlie Hebdo doesn't pull its punches. But some critics say it goes too far, specifically with Muslims. The newspaper, after all, fired a cartoonist who published an article deemed anti-Semitic in 2008. But when it comes to depicting Islam, writes the Financial Times' Tony Barber, the publication has no qualms specifically "mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims."

Donohue, who in his statement presumes to speak for all Muslims, is not concerned with that argument. Instead, he clings to a defense of religious sensitivities bound to infuriate free-speech advocates and secularists and pins the fault of a terror attack on its victims.

The statement ends with a quote from U.S. founding father James Madison: "Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty, as well as by the abuses of power." In other words, we may be free to speak, but we have to appreciate the value of that right. Donohue should follow his own advice.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article included images offensive to various religious groups that did not meet the Post's standards, and should not have been published. They have been removed.