Quite some time back, I posted that Pope Francis is the bookmark pope for me because I find his words to be rather confusing. (English is not his first language and English is my only language.) A lot of people, mostly non-Catholics, have asked me about his recent remarks to reporters about religious freedom and violence. Even though his words in an interview are not authoritative on the level of an encyclical, I feel I should write something because so many have asked. Another factor in my wanting to write about this is that the interpretations given to me have seemed much more confusing to me than what Pope Francis said.
Piers Morgan, a Catholic, is quite upset about the pope’s remarks and says so at the Daily Mail. Morgan has been very gracious to my friend Rick Santorum, also a Catholic, when he has interviewed him, so I will quote from Morgan’s article.
Asked for his response to the Paris terrorist attacks, Pope Francis – flanked by his Papal trip organizer, Dr. Alberto Gasparri – told journalists on a plane to the Philippines that he defended freedom of speech as not only a fundamental human right but also as a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.
But then he clarified this, by saying there were ‘limits’ to how far this freedom extends.
‘There are so many people who speak badly about religions,’ he said, ‘who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs.’
Then came the analogy which shocked me to the core:
‘If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, then a punch awaits him. It’s normal. One cannot provoke. One cannot insult the faith of others. One cannot make fun of faith.’
I have spent a great deal of time considering these remarks by Pope Francis. After all, when someone says something you aren’t sure about, it’s best to put a lot of thought into it before coming to any conclusions, right? At long last, I have decided that Pope Francis is saying something here about the carnal man versus the saint.
Islam appeals to man’s carnal instincts whereas Jesus calls us to rise above our carnal instincts. It is “normal” (natural) for a man to want to punch someone who has offended him. A saint does not do this, but Pope Francis is not someone who would cast himself as a saint. Rather, he seems keen to let us know that he is not perfect. He has not been perfected. He is not a saint. Though he is no saint (yet), he is self-aware enough to know what his personal limit is. For him, his personal limit is that if someone insults his mother with curse words, he is probably going to punch them.
I think that Pope Francis is very charitably making a judgment about religions that appeal to carnal man, of which Islam is one. Who can argue, after all, that a heaven that promises to men sexual relations with virgins is not a carnal religion? As in Islam, the Catholic Church teaches modesty because of the carnal nature of man, but Catholicism teaches the importance also of controlling the passions and ordering them toward the will of God who calls us to chastity. (Some are called to celibacy but all are called to chastity.) Islam is very strongly opposed to celibacy which is the height of self-control over one’s sexuality, to offer that part of one’s self up to God.
We find in Pope Francis a man who is quite able, as far as anyone can see, to live life as a celibate priest, but who is not quite yet saintly enough to control his passions to the point of acting saintly if someone insults his mother. He is confessing to a personal weakness where his carnal nature is too strong for him personally to control but that is natural to mankind. Piers Morgan is interpreting Pope Francis’ remarks to mean that we are allowed to punch people who offend our religion, but what Pope Francis is really saying to us is that our carnal nature prompts us to punch people and that he personally is not strong enough to control that…yet.
Because Islam is a carnal religion, we should expect that Muslims will act in a carnal manner when they are offended. We should expect, also, that many Catholics will act in a carnal manner when they are offended. The reason is that we are all human beings. Though we are all made in the image of a loving God who calls us to be loving toward each other, and as such should never react violently (as Pope Francis noted), it is “normal” (natural) for us to respond aggressively if we are not yet the saints God has called us to be.
In short, we should try not to offend anyone’s religion. We should avoid violence. But we are also all human. We live in a broken world and we should understand that violence comes from that brokenness in man. God will make us saints, if we discipline ourselves and if we ask for His help in the process. For a Catholic, becoming a saint is a lifelong process, but it is impossible for us to become saints without the help of God because we all remain merely carnal without the grace that comes through Jesus Christ.
Finally, it should be emphasized that Pope Francis was speaking spiritually, not politically. Man’s law can never be perfect. God’s law is perfect. Pope Francis is not speaking about civil law. He is speaking about how we should respond in our human relationships. He is not tossing out just war theory by calling us all to recognize the inevitability of our human nature and our duty not to react violently. Everything that Pope Francis says should be taken in the context of constant Catholic teaching. He has said so himself. Attempts to put him in the role of king of the world are anti-Catholic and futile. Satan is king of the world. Jesus is Lord of our hearts. Pope Francis is His vicar on earth. Know the differences.