PATRICK NOVECOSKY writes that poking fun at others’ faith is highly uncharitable . . .
When free speech advocates took to the streets of Paris last month, their signs read “Je Suis Charlie,” French for “I Am Charlie.” Their noble but misguided enthusiasm caught the attention of many, including Pope Francis.
During an in-flight press conference on the way to the Philippines in late January, the Holy Father not only condemned the Islamists who murdered 12 people at the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, but he also said there must be limits on free speech.
Pope Francis reaffirmed that “killing in the name of God” is a real “aberration.” While he agreed that everyone has the “right” — even the “duty — to speak his mind to help the common good,” he said no one should deliberately insult another’s religion.
After the attacks, Catholic League president Bill Donohue blasted the killers and took the magazine to task for profanely lampooning Islam and Christianity. “Those associated with Charlie Hebdo, are no champions of freedom. Quite the opposite: Their obscene portrayal of religious figures, so shocking that not a single TV station or mainstream newspaper would show them, represents an abuse of freedom.”
Radio host Hugh Hewitt and Megyn Kelly of Fox News excoriated Donohue for “blaming the victims” of the Paris massacre. Kelly also accused Donohue of blaming the victims saying, like Hewitt, it was similar to “blaming a rape victim for what she was wearing.” Both interviewers pointed to the First Amendment, which, interestingly, has no legal bearing in France.
While both interviewers missed Donohue’s point, Pope Francis made the same distinction as Donohue in his comments on the killings. He told the media onboard the papal plane last month that “you cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
“In freedom of expression there are limits,” he said. With a laugh and by way of example, the Pope said that if Alberto Gasbarri (the longtime Vatican papal trip organizer who was standing beside him on the plane) cursed his mother, “then a punch awaits him. But it’s normal, it’s normal.” As he was speaking, the Holy Father threw a mock jab in Gasbarri’s direction.
Both Donohue and the Holy Father made the same point. While it may be legal to poke fun at others’ beliefs, it is highly uncharitable. And it’s downright naïve to think that poking a snake in the eye won’t provoke a violent reaction.
PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.