Pope Francis has made a couple of statements in response to the recent Charlie Hebdo killings that seem hard to reconcile. On January 13th he spoke in Sri Lanka and informed the world that religion must never be used to justify violence. Today he spoke en route to the Philippines and is reported as saying that making fun of religion was unacceptable and that anyone who does so can expect ‘a punch in the nose’. The punch in the nose comment is of course, in effect, an appeal to religion to justify violence. The underlying assumption here is that religion is deserving of respect and that at least some (low-level) violent responses are justified in response to displays of disrespect towards religion.
No doubt there will be well meaning people out there who will attempt to reconcile the two claims and perhaps try to argue that the Pope’s more recent words are somehow not a defence of violence conducted in the name of religion. My own view is that the Pope is backsliding, from a recent, and somewhat reluctant embrace of tolerance and freedom of expression, in the direction of a more traditional Catholic position. The Catholic Church has a long history of using religion to justify violence. The official Catholic view for centuries – which was explicitly defended by St. Thomas Aquinas – was that it was justifiable to torture and kill heretics and apostates. The Catholic Church conducted a series of violent inquisitions up until the mid-Nineteenth Century and regularly denounced religious tolerance, freedom of conscience and democracy until the early decades of the Twentieth Century.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.