After a visit to Sri Lanka, Pope Francis arrived in the Philippines on Thursday, his second stop in his weeklong tour of Southeast Asia. But before he landed in the predominantly Catholic country, the pontiff had some harsh words for the unfolding Je Suis Charlie movement in France and beyond. Despite speaking vehemently about the dangers of religious fundamentalism earlier this week, Pope Francis said free speech had its limits, particularly when it comes to religion. "You cannot make fun of the faith of others," Francis told reporters in an impromptu press conference on his papal plane.
This new message from Francis comes as a bit of a surprise, even though he is, after all, leader of one billion Catholics worldwide. The pontiff has been known to support the media — and is routinely gracious for the news coverage — even when most of the Vatican wants to subdue the People's Pope hype. But when asked by a French journalist about the relationship between religion and free speech, Francis said:
It's true that we can't react violently, but, for example if Dr. Gasbarri here, a great friend of mine, says a curse word against my mother, then a punch awaits him. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.
However, Francis reiterated that using God to justify murder and violence is "an aberration," and affirmed that both freedom of speech and freedom of religion were fundamental human rights. So, human rights with limits?
Perhaps Francis is a little miffed about the world rallying behind French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which not only published crude cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, but also regularly took jabs at the Catholic Church. The publication previously published cartoons lampooning his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. When Benedict formally announced his resignation, for instance, Charlie Hebdo published this cover (below) showing the pontiff eloping with a Swiss Vatican guard.
And when Francis was elected as the new leader of the Catholic Church, Charlie Hebdo depicted the first Latin American pope as a spicy showgirl (at least, I think that's the concept behind the cover).
But the most controversial Charlie Hebdo cover regarding the Catholic Church may be this one showing Benedict holding up a condom as if it was the Eucharist, saying, "This is my body." The cover was mocking Benedict's statements on when and how Catholics should use condoms — if ever.
Images: Getty Images, Charlie Hebdo