Pope Francis has suggested the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were "provocateurs" who should have expected a violent backlash, adding that there are limits to freedom of expression when it insults someone's faith.
Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, said there was a duty to speak one's mind for the sake of the common good, but added that there were "limits".
Indicating his friend and assistant Alberto Gasparri, who was standing by his side, he said: "If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," as he pretended to throw a sharp hook. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."
In the wake of the attack, where 12 people were massacred by Islamist gunmen who stormed the paper's offices, the Vatican and four prominent French imams issued a joint declaration that denounced the attacks but also urged the media to treat religions with respect. Charlie Hebdo had become notorious for printing images of the Prophet Mohammed, as well as lampooning all major world religions, the far right and the French establishment.
Pope Francis has been the target of the magazine's satirists, including a cartoon that portrayed the Argentinian as a prostitute at the Rio carnival declaring he is "soliciting clients", and the Papal conclave enjoying an enormous circle of anal sex.
There was a furious backlash online after the comments, with many accusing the Pope of victim-blaming.
Is this really a good time for any religious leader to be endorsing violence for insulting religion? http://t.co/x9MSYZtLSn— Harry Cole (@MrHarryCole) January 15, 2015
.@dannyctkemp I assume the Pope is referring to punching someone of the other cheek— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) January 15, 2015
What?? Pope? Punch? Mum? WHAT?— Hugo Rifkind (@hugorifkind) January 15, 2015
Pope joins the 'I believe in free expression, but' camp http://t.co/vQ31Sovzhf. He's wrong: you can insult people. Sometimes you even should— Jodie Ginsberg (@jodieginsberg) January 15, 2015
Francis insisted that it was an "aberration" to kill in the name of God and said religion can never be used to justify violence.
But he went on: "There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others," he said. "They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit."
Francis said he had spoken to Vatican security officials who are taking "prudent and secure measures" against possible attacks on him. "I am worried, but you know I have a defect: a good dose of carelessness. I'm careless about these things," he said. But he admitted that in his prayers, he had asked that if something were to happen to him that "it doesn't hurt, because I'm not very courageous when it comes to pain. I'm very timid. I'm in God's hands."