Pope Francis on Freedom of Expression and Respect for Another’s Expression of Faith

I simply like what Pope Francis had to say about the tragedy in Paris last week during the in-flight interview he gave on his way from Sri Lanka to the Philippines today.  I have struggled in the last few days with how to articulate both my abhorrence of the killings AND my objections to how Charlie Hebdo has treated Muslim (as well as all other) practices of faith.

I kept thinking that notions of “The Holy” and what might constitute a denigration of the holy really are fundamental for how to worship, and I was hoping someone was going to say at least something on this blog about these issues.  Today, Pope Francis gave me a way at least to put my struggles around these issues into a link to his in-flight interview. Click and read:





    1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #1:
      Hmmm, I think — rather than being invited to punch an offender — you are invited to ponder what might be offensive to another, who holds things and persons as beloved who may mean nothing to you.

  1. “Because it is true that one should not react violently, but if Mr. Gasbarri [note: voyage planner, standing beside the pope], who is a great friend, says a swear word about my mother, he can expect to receive a punch! It’s normal… We cannot provoke, we cannot insult the faith of others, we cannot mock faith.”

    Pope Francis, 15 January 2015

    Airplane Magisterial Statement…. “Who am I to judge?”

  2. I too rejoiced after reading on a national news website what Pope Francis said during the press conference regarding freedom of expression. What many fail to understand, it seems, is that with freedom comes responsibility; it is not a license to defame or to insult. Quoting Abraham Lincoln: “Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought.” And as I read the comments after the article, I was so saddened and quite disgusted by the derogatory remarks and attacks against Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. And no, I don’t believe I have been given permission to punch a person. I have been given a challenge to respect others — sans violence.

    1. @Jean Romain – comment #4:
      By the way, I agree with the Holy Father’s overall comments too. In fact when studying in Navarre, I did a long paper on how the First Amendment to the Constitution was incompatible with Catholic mores. Fun, fun.

    2. @Jean Romain – comment #4:
      With that said, I only said I “feel like” I had been given permission. I know the Holy Father gave no permission. But rest assured, “It’s normal”, and I agree with him here too. I think it probably falls under the category of justifiable response.

      I translate and read every Airplane Magisterial Statement. I love them. I actually think it really gives one a flavor of who he is.

      1. He is a real, normal man; and,

      2. He’ll probably punch you if you insult his mother.

      What more could a mother want?

  3. Oopsie! Now we have the Vatican Press Office Nota Praevia to the Airplane Magisterial Statement of 15 January 2015.

    “The Pope’s expression is in no way intended to be interpreted as a justification for the violence and terror that took place in Paris last week. The Pope’s words about Dr. Gasbarri were spoken colloquially and in a friendly, intimate matter among colleagues and friends on the journey. His words mean that there are limits to humor and satire particularly in the ways that we speak about matters of faith and belief. Pope Francis’ response might be similar to something each of us has felt when those dearest to us are insulted or harmed. The Pope’s free style of speech, especially in situations like the press conference must be taken a face value and not distorted or manipulated. The Pope has spoken out clearly against the terror and violence that occurred in Paris and in other parts of the world. Violence begets violence. Pope Francis has not advocated violence with his words on the flight.”

    This, of course leaves in question whether punching someone who insulted your mother constitutes an act of violence.

    Also, I have been re-watching the viddeo, and the Holy Father said “It’s normal.” twice

    I will take him at his word.

  4. Ah yes, the theological handlers have their hands full, with this Pope :). I myself appreciate the somewhat unguarded, down-to-earth, concrete immediacy of the Pope’s statement. It helped me at least express the tension I felt in my own thinking about the Charlie Hebdo events.

  5. Am I the only one who thinks Todd Orbitz is belligerently misinterpreting the Pope’s comments? And that this is part of a larger campaign (a pattern of attitudes) with respect to this Pope?

    Francis uses colorful language. (He once spoke of approvingly of throwing plates in marital disagreements.) It was obvious – to me, at least – that he wasn’t approving of punching anyone. And that he very clearly was not approving of the terrorist acts. To “take him at his word” is pretty much to miss his point, and to miss the genre of text.

    Maybe I’m misreading it, but Todd’s comments felt like a “gotcha,” and thus they just don’t sit right with me.


  6. My comments are younger in cheek. I submit fully to the teaching magisterium of the Church, whether I agree with it or not.

    If the Holy Father teaches with respect to Faith and morals that something is black and I see white, I am obviously wrong and I submit it is black. But then again, “Who am I to judge?”.

    Do I think it is imprudent, unwise, and somewhat juvenile for a world leader to bloviate on an airplane with a press who hates him?


    The press is not a friend and it must be managed. Saint Paul would have seen them for what they are. I wish the Holy Father would.

    Now,as I said in another forum, I wish Ignatius Press would publish a hardcover of these Airplane Magisterial Statements. I need a copy.

    1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #11:

      Todd: Do I think it is imprudent, unwise, and somewhat juvenile for a world leader to bloviate on an airplane with a press who hates him?


      Wouldn’t the same standard apply not just to Pope Francis but also to any head of state or head of government? Presidents of the United States have been known on many occasions to make off-cuff remarks while on Air Force One. These statements play to mixed reactions in the press and public. Should the press refrain from editoralizing on these statements? Certainly not. It’s the duty of the media consumer, and not the press, to cultivate an informed opinion.

      We as Catholics, and all people of the world indirectly, are moving into a phase where, as Jonathan Day notes, the Pope acts more like a CEO than a king. I would add that Pope Francis, perhaps deliberately, conducts himself in a manner more akin to a modern head of state than the cosseted, sedan-chair-carried popes of yesteryear. These past popes had magisterial factotums who carefully crafted pontifical statements before announcing them to the press. The 24/7 news cycle, combined with a Pope who wishes to present himself as a shepherd savvy in both politics and the media, demands that individual Catholics must exercise some of their own discretion about the practical application of doctrine today. I’m not sure that all Catholics are mature enough to seize this initiative. Yet, this initiative must be seized, because the sedan chairs of monarch-popes will never return.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #30:
        “Wouldn’t the same standard apply not just to Pope Francis but also to any head of state or head of government?”
        The difference, at least in democratic republics, is that these functionaries have fixed terms of offices and can be voted out of office when an election rolls around.
        “…the sedan chairs of monarch-popes will never return.”
        That’s a pity. It wasn’t till the popes realised their temporal power was under threat that they began to meddle with dogmatics and the liturgy. We could use another few centuries of Renaissance popes, to roll back the unfortunate Ultramontanism we’re faced with today.

      2. @Tony Phillips – comment #32:

        Tony: It wasn’t till the popes realised their temporal power was under threat that they began to meddle with dogmatics and the liturgy. We could use another few centuries of Renaissance popes, to roll back the unfortunate Ultramontanism we’re faced with today.

        I doubt that the IOR is equipped to fund a social program for the many consorts, sons, and daughters of neo-Renaissance popes.

        If there’s one aspect of the peri-conciliar era that I consider welcome, it’s the reformation of the papal office into a fuller understanding of the role of the pope as shepherd. Paul VI’s rejection of the tiara signaled a new understanding of the office: no longer is the papacy removed from a tacit dialogue with the clergy and laity. This new rapprochement with the faithful was put to immediate test with Humanae vitae. Despite the controversy of this constitution, the “open papacy” has survived to some degree or another in subsequent popes. If anything, Pope Francis strikes me as least ultramontanist. He is capable, even willing, to examine doctrine and policy in the light of human experience and Christian mercy. His willingness to place these questions before the media and subsequently the faithful shows a willingness for dialogue which is merely a more advanced development of the new papal model of Paul VI.

        Giving the papacy back Lazio, Umbria, and Avignon will not stem the modernization of the papacy. Flabella and ermine trains might mask this modern movement for a short while, but will never overcome its inevitable progression.

      3. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #34:
        I would agree fundamentally with almost everything you posited here, with one slight exception.

        Usually Popes are not referred to as ultramontanist. It is the curia, Priests and layfolk who can be ultrmontanist.

        With that said, I have a friend – a Priest – who was in the room when the Holy Father quoted Loyala telling a group of Priests that if the Holy Father said white was black, they should believe it to be black.

        Did he mean this literally? No. But it was in the context of demanding obediance.

  7. I meant “lounge in cheek”. I am afflicted by an android keyboard I despise. I would punch it if I could.

  8. Furthermore, and to my point, I, sometimes use colorful language too. I think you are missing the underlying genre of my previous comments, and I mean that in all sincerity.

    1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #13:
      For what it’s worth, Todd, I read your comments in that genre, and thus did not feel what Anthony felt when reading your comments. Ah, exegesis is such a tricky business.

  9. When Francis said “It’s normal”, he meant “It’s normal to feel like this”, not “It’s normal to do it”. A little common sense is required here. Yes, it’s very normal to feel like that, and we all do, but the question is how you then deal with that savage impulse.

  10. A much more difficult question, regarding respect for other’s beliefs, is about what is reasonable. For example, is it reasonable for some Muslims to ban all depictions of the prophet? The Quran does not explicitly forbid images of Mohammed. Secondary rules (hadiths) forbid any depiction of the prophet in order to avoid the worship of idols, but he was illustrated routinely in Persia in the 1200s and 1300s. Depiction is only forbidden by certain Muslims (for example, Sunnis), not by all. Why do they find it insulting, rather than merely distasteful?

    If we Christians had a similar ban, there’d be no holy cards, statues of the Sacred Heart, crucifixes…….

    It’s all about where it’s reasonable to draw the line. There’s a piece in today’s paper about a Sikh lawyer who was prevented from visiting his client in prison because he had pins in his turban. This religious garment would simply fall to pieces without them.

    And the only way to deal with questions of reasonableness is to discuss them, calmly and intelligently, not to pick up a gun. Those discussions will include whether Charlie Hebdo is right to continue to lampoon all and sundry, or whether there is a question of taste as well as ethics. Is it ever right to goad people simply because you get enjoyment out of it? Does that feel like a reasonable thing to do?

    In England we have so-called freedom of speech, freedom of the press, but there are all sorts of things that can’t be said or printed because they are obscene, or incitements to violence, or incitements to religious or racial hatred, or treasonable, or……. the list is actually very long. Is that reasonable, or should we just let people say and print what they like?

    If Francis’s “punch” succeeds in provoking people actually to talk about these things instead of falling back on their gut reactions, it will have served a useful purpose.

  11. Welcome to the Todd Orbitz blog. Seriously? I suggest the moderator should consider whether such back and forth exchanges are always suitable. Regular readers here know well that some who post do so to get the goats of those who are excited about the leadership of pope Francis. If they were illustrators, God only knows what kind of cartoons they would include. Francis’ comments should be understood in terms of his uncanny ability to relate to all things human. You bet I’d feel like punching someone in the nose who insulted the memory of my late mother, but I also know how to restrain myself something the victims at Charlie Hebdo were not good at. Freedom of expression is only one thing at stake in this controversy. The limits to expression required by decency and respect is another. Advocating for such limits is NOT justification for violent acts. Thanks, Anthony, for your comments.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #18:
      ‘I suggest the moderator should consider whether such back and forth exchanges are always suitable.’
      Ah yes, let’s call the censors out! Really, no one’s forced to respond to Todd’s comments.

      I’m not a big fan of this pope either, but as I recall St Peter once cut someone’s ear off. (Now, there’s a “man’s man”, to use Todd’s phrase…even Cdl Burke would be impressed.)
      Mind you, he got a telling off for it.

      1. @Tony Phillips – comment #23:
        The goal at Pray Tell is to create a community among its readers. We do not always have to agree…and thank God, because we would have nothing to talk about!…but we do always have to show one another respect.

        I will say, the Pope’s statements were obviously going to invoke some interesting comments on this thread, but we have all been reading and commenting on the blog for a while. We know each other, we know each other’s views, and we also know how to get under each other’s skin. While some of that is okay, at some point it goes against the goals of Pray Tell, which seeks to be a community of readers who are concerned about the liturgy and the Church, and who seek to be faithful Christians.

        So yes, no one has to respond to anyone’s comments, but commenters should also be mindful that what they post should contribute in a constructive way to the conversation.

        I enjoy the witty banter, the differences of opinions, the sarcasm, etc., and I am sure I have said a few things that have not been constructive, but I hope that we can all commit ourselves to a dialogue of respect which elevates the conversation and forges us into an online Christian community.

        And in a sarcastic tone that seeks to lighten the mood: I cannot wait to read the comments on my comment 🙂

  12. Paul:

    I am not sure he wasn’t actually endorsing the punch as normal. The video shows him saying “it’s normal” twice.

    In any case, I am not sure one wouldn’t be justifiable. But I am willing to rule out the morality of the knee applied to the femoral artery, and the punch applied to the trachea, or uppercut to the nose.

    1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #19:

      I’m sorry, Todd, but you have to understand Hispanic mindset and utterances. I have not seen the video, but I can tell you that “Ees normal” is a shorthand expression in several Romance languages; you simply can’t take it literally, as I indicated in my previous post.

  13. Part of Pope Francic’s broad appeal is how he speaks off-the-cuff with humor rather than in prepared, bland statements. None of the apostles were scholars or lawyers, and they acted in bold ways, but along the way we have lost that sense.

    There are some that would have him deliver canned speeches vetted by a team of theologians and otherwise keep his mouth shut. These are the same ones who are content with the church focusing inward on itself, or at most talking -to- the world, not -with- it.

  14. I also don’t agree with Todd’s comments that the press is hostile towards the pope. In fact, I would say that the press’s disposition to Francis is generally very positive.

    1. @Andrew Rex – comment #22:
      Andrew: Oh, they treat him nicely and use his statements to advance their world view while flushing down the toilet everything he has said of substance — which is an incredible amount.

      Don’t expect to hear what preceded, “Who am I to judge?”. Expect them to focus on [like they have] the censorious punching Pope. Expect them to hail his words about immigrants. Expect them to ignore his words about how excessive debt is a tax on a generation not yet born.

      The list goes on and on.

      Quite frankly, I think the Holy Father is much more of a man’s man than the press would have us think. I also think he likes to speak colloquially because people understand it. And I think that IS a good thing, when it’s done in a context where regular people are hearing it.

      But, when you do it in front of the international press, you must either be naive, have a terrible support staff, or you are simply ignoring the reality of how the press will shape your message.

      To Scott’s point…. I do NOT want him to just give prepared speeches. However, he would be much more effective speaking off the cuff at major liturgies — which the secular press rarely , if ever, really follow [so there’s little chance to misrepresent him] — but the Catholic press does.

      But then again, who am I to judge?

  15. Francis also has a sense of humour. On meeting 40 Jesuit priests in the Philippines, he was told “In Sri Lanka, you were welcomed by 40 elephants; now you have 40 Jesuits”, to which he responded “The elephants were better dressed”. Makes me wonder if Cardinal Burke will wear his cappa magna in Philadelphia later this year…..

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #25:
      “The elephants were better dressed”.
      I’m not convinced that Francis meant to be humorous in this example. I think he may have meant exactly what he said.
      Will have to wait for the clarification…

  16. This pope has a very good Italian sense of humor and it comes across especially when he is speaking Italian and off-the-cuff in particular. Rank and file Italians eat it up. My Italian relatives say that this pope is someone they would feel comfortable inviting into their home for a pranzo!

    But with that said, papal-speak is always analyzed, dissected and interpreted. Many don’t make distinctions between the different levels of authority of papal-speak and if we attribute to off-the-cuff remarks the same authority as an encyclical then we’re in trouble, especially with this pope. I happen to think Pope Francis should be a bit more cautious about off-the-cuff remarks because one could interpret the one referred to in this post as justifying evil behavior. No matter the provocation (and I would say the cartoonists in France were irresponsibly proactive to the point of endangering not only their lives but the lives of innocent policemen and other civilians) no written or oral communication, satire or not, deserves cold-blooded murder.

    Pope Francis’ remarks about provocation and reaction is spot-on but trivializes what happen to these French satirists. It was more than a spontaneous reaction, the cold-blooded murders were done with forethought, planning and military like execution. It was not a knee-jerk reaction.

      1. @Anthony Ruff – comment #29:
        I think that this is Fr Anthony and Fr Allan in agreement. Excellent news, thank you both.

        If you look on google for CH covers you will find one for the Papal visit to Paris of, I think, Pope Benedict. It shows him in white and an adoring crowd in dark. The headline is: “Les Français aussi cons que les nègres” or “The French as stupid as the negros”.
        More recently the title has a subtitle “Journal irresponsable”. I think that the authors did not accept responsibility for their actions.
        May I suggest that we read the short document of VII, Inter Mirifica, paragraph 11 notably.
        We cannot change the secular media directly but might do better with our own message: see paragraph 15. Perhaps Pope Francis too should look at this.

        My own feeling, for what it is worth, is that Pope Benedict was like a coach teaching us carefully. Pope Francis is more like a supporter in the crowd cheering us on in good voice.

  17. I look forward to the day when the headlines described when the assailants in Paris got out of their car and went in to the meeting room and slugged each editor in the arm and then got back in their car, and drove away.

    Maybe the Pope is on to something…when some one offends, you get one punch and call it good.

  18. I guess I’m one of the few Catholics who didn’t like what the pope said about freedom of speech and about punching someone. I liked what the French Jesuits wrote in their journal Etudes (before they were asked to removed it) … “It is a sign of strength to be able to laugh at some traits of the institution to which we belong, because it is a way of saying that what we value is beyond always transient and imperfect forms. Humour regarding faith is a good antidote to fanaticism and a spirit of seriousness which tends to take everything literally.”

    It’s so strange – I’m a liberal but in the case of the pope, I often end up boxed with the conservatives who don’t like him because they think he’s too liberal … to me, he seems too conservative 😉

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