MANILA— Pope Francis waded into the debate over freedom of expression following the attacks in Paris, saying that killing in the name of religion is an “aberration,” but adding that those who deride other faiths can expect to provoke a strong—even violent—response.
Speaking in reference to last week’s assault on French publication Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead, the pope said that “no one can kill in the name of God. This is an aberration.”
He added, however, that “there is a limit to freedom of expression.” The pope offered a colorful example, referring to a hypothetical case in which someone insults his mother.
“One cannot react violently, but if [someone] says something bad about my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s to be expected,” the pontiff said. “There are a lot of people who speak badly about other religions. They make fun of them. What happens is what happens with my friend [who insults my mother]. There is a limit.”
The pope made the comments during an in-flight news conference from Sri Lanka to Manila, where he will take up the second leg of a weeklong tour of Asia. He was greeted at the airport by President Benigno Aquino III and a raucous singing, dancing routine by hundreds of jeans-clad young people. People cheered the pope’s motorcade to the residence of the Apostolic nuncio.
In recent days, the 78-year-old pontiff strongly denounced the attack by two militant Muslim gunmen on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical publication that has long derided Islam, as well as other religious figures, including the Vatican.
Before leaving Rome on Monday, the pope said “deviant forms of religion” lead to atrocities such as last week’s attacks in France, and he prayed for the victims. He has frequently denounced killings and persecution, particularly of Christians, perpetrated by Islamic fighters in the name of religion. The 78-year-old pontiff has been a strong advocate of interreligious dialogue, even in the face of Islam-inspired violence.
But his in-flight remarks are likely to fuel the debate about freedom of expression that has erupted since the killings, amid complaints from Muslim leaders that the French publication stepped over the line in its raunchy and mordant depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.
“Each person not only has the freedom but also the obligation to say what he thinks in the name of the common good,” the pope said. But “each religion has its dignity. I cannot make fun of it.”
Separately, the pope said a much-anticipated encyclical on the environment likely will come out in June or July. It will be the first papal encyclical on the issue, and any strong stand by the pope on the question of whether climate change is provoked by human activity is likely to be divisive.
The Argentinean-born pontiff has frequently warned against the despoiling of the planet and has expressed concern over the impact of rising tides and natural catastrophes on poor countries. As a result, some expect him to endorse the idea that human activity is a cause of global warming. If so, the Catholic Church could give a major boost those who believe human activity has caused climate change
In the news conference, the pope sidestepped the question, saying only that he believes that man “has overexploited nature” and making reference to concerns raised by Catholic leaders regarding the deforestation of the Amazon.
The pope is hoping to release the encyclical before the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in November, saying that past efforts to find international agreement on ways to combat climate change “lacked courage.”
“Let’s hope that in Paris, they are braver,” he said.
Environmental issues are likely to emerge during the pope’s tour of the Philippines, parts of which were devastated by a typhoon in November 2013. A major highlight of the Philippines visit will be a Mass scheduled Saturday in Tacloban, an area that suffered the largest number of casualties.
The pope also dropped a strong hint that he could travel to Mexico or to the U.S.-Mexican border during a planned trip to the U.S. in September. The Holy See has only confirmed that he will attend a world family day in Philadelphia in September, but Pope Francis has said publicly that he is considering stops in Washington, D.C., New York and Mexico.
During the news conference, the pope said that during his September trip, he will canonize Junipero Serra, a cleric credited with having spread Catholicism in the western U.S. in the 18th century. He gave no further details, and the Vatican typically confirms the exact agenda of papal travels a couple of months ahead of a visit.
Pope Francis smiled as he spoke to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III after landing in Manila on Thursday. Reuters
Finally, the pontiff addressed concerns that he could be the target of an attack by Islam-inspired militants. Since the Paris attack, the Italian government has acknowledged that the Vatican could be a target, although it said it has no information on specific threats. Almost every Wednesday, the pope holds a public audience in St. Peter’s Square, typically touring the piazza in his open-top Popemobile and stopping to greet the tens of thousands of faithful who come.
Security is a major concern for the Philippines trip. Some fear an attempt on the pope’s life by al-Qaeda-linked Islamic militants active in the south of the country. Authorities are also concerned that the huge crowds—a Mass on Sunday could draw as many as six million people—could rush the hugely popular pontiff. He was surrounded by bodyguards at his arrival at the airport, and security forces jammed cellular networks.
Pope Francis, who hates being constrained by security and has spurned bulletproof cars, admitted Thursday that he was concerned about security, particularly the risk that an attack could injure or kill bystanders.
“I worry, but I have a healthy dose of disregard,” he said. “I know they are taking security precautions…All I can do is pray that I don’t feel pain (in the case of an attempt). I’m not very courageous when it comes to pain.”