ROME — Pope Francis blasted religious fundamentalism Monday, telling an Argentinian interreligious dialogue group that fundamentalism is a “plague.”
“Beware of the fundamentalist groups: everyone has his own. In Argentina too there is a little fundamentalist corner,” the pope told his hearers. “And let us try, with fraternity, to go forward. Fundamentalism is a scourge and all religions have some kind of fundamentalist first cousin there, which forms a group.”
The pope took pains to show that it is not just Muslim extremists who practice violent fanaticism, citing historical instances of Christian fanaticism and religiously motivated violence, such as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre and a scene of forced conversion from the Chanson de Roland.
“It is important to demonstrate that we believers are a factor of peace for human societies, and that we will thus respond to those who unjustly accuse religions of fomenting hatred and being the cause of violence,” he said.
In his address, the pope repeated his 2016 assertion that all religions are equally prone to violence and that Islam and Christianity are much the same in this regard.
When asked by a reporter about the “barbarous assassination” of Fr. Jacques Hamel who was clearly “killed in the name of Islam” by two radicalized Muslims in northern France, the pope answered that he doesn’t like speaking about Islamic violence because there is plenty of Christian violence as well.
Francis said that every day when he reads the newspapers, he sees violence perpetrated by Christians: “this one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law… and these are baptized Catholics! There are violent Catholics!”
“If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence,” Francis said. “And no, not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad; there’s everything.”
In his response, Francis failed to draw any distinction between jihadists who kill innocent people in the name of Allah and people who kill their girlfriend or mother-in-law and happen to be Christians.
Francis acknowledged that there are “violent persons of this religion [Islam],” immediately adding that “in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists. We have them.”
The pope insisted that he knows how Muslims think, and that deep down they desire peace and harmony just as Christians do.
“I had a long conversation with the imam, the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar University, and I know how they think,” he said. “They seek peace, encounter.”
“I do not believe it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right or true,” he said.
The pope added that the Islamic State terror group does not draw its ideology from the religion of Islam, but appeals rather to the emptiness of young people and a love for violence.