Pope Francis Condemns Paris Attacks, but Says Free Expression Has Limits


“I believe that religious freedom and freedom of speech are both fundamental human rights,” Pope Francis said on his flight to the Philippines Thursday morning. But “freedom of expression has limits,” he added.

During his flight from Sri Lanka to Manila, Philippines, Pope Francis spent 45 minutes engaging in a Q&A with journalists from around the world. Sebastien Maillard, representing the French daily newspaper La Croix, brought up the attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and asked the Pope whether, in his opinion, there are limits on freedom of expression out of regard for religious freedom.

Francis replied that everyone has the right to practice their religion without offending others. “You cannot go to war, killing in the name of their religion, that is, in the name of God,” he said. “This is an aberration.”

Regarding free speech, the Pope also said that “everyone not only has the freedom and the right but also the duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good. But without offending.” He did not speak, however, of legal limits but suggested the need for self-regulation.

The Pope offered an example. “If Dr. Gasbarri”—the organizer of the Pope’s trips, who was standing next to the Pope—“who is a great friend of mine, insults my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot mock the religion of others,” he said.

“There are many people who slander religion, or mock and make fun of others’ religion, provoking these people. It’s as if Dr. Gasbarri says something against my Mom. There’s a limit,” he said.

The Pope said that “every religion that respects life and the human person has dignity. And I cannot mock. This is a limitation.”

“I took this example of a limit to say that with freedom of expression,” Francis said. “There are limits just as in the case of my mom.”

Recently, the Vatican and four French imams issued a joint declaration denouncing the attacks but also urged the media to treat religions with respect. “All religions should join to condemn the Paris attacks,” they said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.