The Holy Father has spoken about the Charlie Hebdo murders in a way that makes a lot of sense, but will probably not win him support from those who believe there can be no restrictions on speech and press. He makes a two prong statement that addresses both issues:
- Using violence in the name of God can never be done.
- The freedom of speech is not an absolute that can justify saying anything offensive.
Basically, the Pope said that people have the right and obligation to speak the truth, but freedom is not absolute. One cannot be grossly offensive, especially when it comes to people’s religious beliefs. Even when people are grossly offensive, others don’t have the right to turn to violence in response. However, anger at having something important being attacked is not wrong in itself. (Which is a very useful point—too many try to twist Christians being offended by attacks as if it was “unchristian.”)
Unfortunately, some are beginning to accuse the Pope of supporting the terrorists—never mind the fact that he has continually condemned terrorism and clarified any possible ambiguities in what he said. They look at it as Either-Or, ignoring the fact that condemning both is a legitimate option.
But what he said makes perfect sense. Even if a non-Christian does not share our values, his words can be understood in terms of respect for others. When we make use of the freedom of speech or the press, we have to be respectful of others. When we speak about things we believe to be wrong, we do so with charity. If someone with a large audience does something grossly offensive and millions are offended, there will probably be a small group among them who would be willing to make an extreme response. It would be wrong of them to do so, but they may be motivated to act in spite of the their moral obligations not to murder.
Ultimately, that’s what happened with Charlie Hebdo. Millions of Muslims were angry, and they had a right to be angry by the offensive antics of this magazine. Tragically, some of these Muslims believed it was acceptable to murder. They were wrong to murder, regardless of what offensive garbage the magazine chose to publish. We believe that Charlie Hebdo did not have the right to be grossly offensive, regardless of their convictions.
So, as I see the Pope’s statement, he sees two wrongs: The wrong of people murdering those they disagree with and the wrong of being deliberately offensive. Both of these are condemnable. The Pope is not siding with the terrorists, but he is not Charlie either.