Jurist Parrots Pope: ‘Don’t Mock Muhammad’

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by Jules Gomes  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 14, 2020   

Rome canonist reignites free speech debate as Charlie Hebdo trials begin

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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - A top Catholic jurist is echoing Pope Francis' warning against caricaturing Muhammad, arguing that the Western tradition of satire must not be used to target people of other religious or ethnic backgrounds.

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Portraits of some of the cartoonists killed by Muslim gunmen

Giuseppe Dalla Torre slammed the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for reprinting the "controversial caricatures of Muhammad" to coincide with the trial of the Muslim terrorists who massacred 12 staff in the editorial offices of the Paris publication in 2015.

Writing in Avvenire — a publication of the Italian Episcopal Conference — Torre reignites the free speech debate in a Saturday column, stressing the need to consider the "dangerous or negative" consequences towards others even exercising the right to "freedom of expression."

Torre, who shares a bond with Pope Francis, contends that "it is not lawful for anyone to offend the legitimate and deepest feelings of others, starting with family affections."

"Who would tolerate public satirical barbs at their mother? And for every believer, religion is a mother," Torre, who is also a canonist, argues.

As Muslim mobs raged against the Muhammad cartoons, Pope Francis addressed the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo staff, insisting there were limits to offending and ridiculing the faiths and beliefs of others.

En route to the Philippines, the pontiff referred to papal trip organizer Alberto Gasparri, who was standing by his side onboard the papal plane.

Who would tolerate public satirical barbs at their mother? And for every believer, religion is a mother.

"If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said while pretending to throw a punch in his direction.

"It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others," Francis added. "Each religion has its dignity. I cannot make fun of it."

'Fundamental Problem' Overlooked

In comments to Church Militant, Dr. Martin Parsons, an independent consultant on global persecution of Christians, noted how both Pope Francis and Professor Torre had failed to address the fundamental problem of how the Muhammad cartoons had impacted persecuted Christians in the Islamic world.

"In order to stand with our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, the Church in the West must do two things," Parsons stressed.

"First, we must never self-censor, but always be prepared to have the difficult conversation with our Muslim friends about what the Qur'an and Hadith actually say, which is used by some to legitimize the persecution of Christian minorities."


The trial gets underway after a five-year wait for victims' families. 


"Publishing articles exposing this does not generally lead to attacks on Christians because jihadists generally agree that this is what the Islamic scriptures say," Parsons noted.

"Secondly, we must recognize that when people produce satirical cartoons of Muhammad it may be 'freedom of expression,' but it doesn't actually help anyone."

"Almost every time this happens, Christian minorities in Islamic countries who had nothing to do with it are targeted in retaliatory attacks and Christians are killed," Parsons, a former aid worker to Afghanistan, lamented.

Almost every time this happens, Christian minorities in Islamic countries who had nothing to do with it are targeted in retaliatory attacks.

Torre acknowledges that Christians in Muslim countries are deprived of free speech and suffer hugely when accused of the "crime of 'blasphemy.'"

Nonetheless, implying that Islam is weak in the West, he urges against mocking the religion of Muhammad

Satire has the function of criticizing, in its own way, power in its excesses and its diversions; it constitutes a counterweight to political degeneration or, in any case, to the centers of power, whatever they may be. Satire unmasks, renders naked, disarms those who are powerful and use their strength to overwhelm.

But Torre also recognizes the power of radical Islam in the West, writing: "It was absolutely foreseeable that the heavily offensive publication against the Muslim conscience could provoke a serious and even criminal reaction in the context of a French society, and more generally Western society, crossed by deep tension due to the presence of Islamic radicals."

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Charlie Hebdo caricatures Francis as a "modern pope"

"Therefore, the principle of responsibility should have kept the editors of the satirical weekly from sharply targeting Muslim worshippers, especially during a time of such high tension," he notes.

Pope's Reaction Blasted

Both liberals and conservatives blasted Pope Francis' constraints on criticizing Islam and the pontiff's illustration of punching someone who insulted his mother.

"No, it's not normal to punch someone who insults you; the pope's Christ certainly didn't think so. Verbal provocation is never an excuse for violence — that's the wife-beater's defense," wrote columnist Polly Toynbee in The Guardian.

"Is he saying we must respect any old cult — followers of Black Sabbath, Odin, Scientology, astrology? Or is it the size of a faith that earns it the right to gag mockery?" Toynbee asked.

National Review's Charles Cooke accused Francis of giving "succor to the notion that those who give gratuitous offense should expect retaliation."

Cooke elaborated: "The language he [the pope] used was imprecise, poorly judged and terribly, terribly timed. There is never — ever — an excuse for violence against peaceful critics. It is not in any way 'normal' to see such foul play."

If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.

"What happened to that simple formulation: 'turn the other cheek'?" Cooke asked.

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Pope Francis with jurist Giuseppe Torre

Later, when repeatedly questioned by journalists if violence was acceptable, Francis explained that one should not offer "a violent reaction in the face of an offense or a provocation" but, as the Gospel instructs, one "should turn the other cheek."

"Catholic theology eventually counsels in favor of considering the well-being of the larger community," and, in addition to underlining "human dignity" and respect for the immigrant Muslim community in France, this is what Pope Francis was doing, concluded Carlo A. Pedrioli in an academic analysis titled "Pope Francis and the Limits of Freedom of Expression."

Two Islamic gunmen killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo's Paris office in January 2015. A third assassin shot dead five more in related attacks.

The French court is currently trying 14 alleged accomplices of the assailants who are charged with providing logistical aid by carrying or supplying cash, weapons and vehicles.

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