On July 31, during the return flight from Poland to Rome, as usual pope Francis held a press conference. He was asked the following question by reporter Antoine Marie Izoarde.
“Holy Father, before all I make the congratulations to you and Father Lombardi and also to Fr. Spadaro for the feast of St. Ignatius, if you allow me. The question is a little difficult: Catholics are a bit in shock, and not only in France, after the barbarous assassination of Fr. Jacques Hamel – as you know well – in his church while celebrating the Holy Mass. Four days ago you here told us that all religions want peace. But this holy, 86-year-old priest was clearly killed in the name of Islam. So Holy Father, I have two brief questions: why do you, when you speak of these violent events, always speak of terrorists, but never of Islam, never use the word Islam? And then, aside from prayer and dialogue, which are obviously essential, what concrete initiatives can you advise or suggest in order to counteract Islamic violence? Thank you, Holiness.
The Holy Father responded,
“I don’t like to speak of Islamic violence, because every day, when I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy… this one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law… and these are baptized Catholics! There are violent Catholics! If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence . . . and no, not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad; there’s everything. There are violent persons of this religion… this is true: I believe that in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists. We have them. When fundamentalism comes to kill, it can kill with the language — the Apostle James says this, not me — and even with a knife, no? I do not believe it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right or true. I had a long conversation with the imam, the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar University, and I know how they think . . . They seek peace, encounter . . . The nuncio to an African country told me that the capital where he is there is a trail of people, always full, at the Jubilee Holy Door. And some approach the confessionals — Catholics — others to the benches to pray, but the majority go forward, to pray at the altar of Our Lady… these are Muslims, who want to make the Jubilee. They are brothers, they live… When I was in Central Africa, I went to them, and even the imam came up on the Popemobile… We can coexist well… But there are fundamentalist groups, and even I ask… there is a question… How many young people, how many young people of our Europe, whom we have left empty of ideals, who do not have work… they take drugs, alcohol, or go there to enlist in fundamentalist groups. One can say that the so-called ISIS, but it is an Islamic State which presents itself as violent . . . because when they show us their identity cards, they show us how on the Libyan coast how they slit the Egyptians’ throats or other things… But this is a fundamentalist group which is called ISIS… but you cannot say, I do not believe, that it is true or right that Islam is terrorist” (Catholic News Agency).
It is so difficult to read Pope Francis’ comments; it’s literally painful. I pray for him regularly, but I’m sorry; he scares the living daylights out of me. He is the universal representative and global communicator for the Christian religion to the entire Christian and non-Christian world. And yet, his statements are consistently so confused and filled with vagueness and generalities that seem tailor-designed to offer optimum opportunity to anti-Catholics. For example, what exactly is a “Catholic Fundamentalist?” Please name a specific Catholic Fundamentalist individual and the Catholic Fundamentalist group to which he or she belongs. I know of two groups which many people would describe in such a derogatory way: pro-life Catholics and traditional Catholics. But calling a Catholic “pro-life” is like saying he or she believes in the Fifth Commandment, and calling them “traditional” is like saying they hold to a faith that was handed down to them. In other words, if the word “Catholic” has any coherent meaning, it refers to that type of Christian who, among other things, holds to a pro-life morality and accepts the apostolic faith handed down to them (traditio) with the strongest of convictions. Many Catholics have died for these fundamental convictions and have been canonized by the Church for it. So, who and what exactly are these fundamentalists? Are they the members of Opus Dei? Are we now stooping to the level of Hollywood anti-Catholic conspiracy theories? Or are they the theologians and doctors of the Church, such as Saint Alphonsus Liguori, whose feast day is celebrated today? If so, then please call me a fundamentalist Catholic too, and I will be most honored.
More importantly, I have to respond to the implication that Catholics are violent, just like some Muslims. This is absolutely absurd. First and foremost, no Catholic denies that Catholics commit sins. This is why we have the sacrament of penance: Christ knew we would sin; it is inevitable. But to speak of this fact in the context of raping, slitting throats, and beheading in the name of Islam is dangerously misleading. The murderers of Father Jacques Hamel committed their crimes in the name of Islam. We find this to be the case over and over again in France, Germany, throughout Europe, the Middle East, and in America as well. Such violence may be an act of Jihad, or Sharia, or an honor killing, but it is all done in the name of Islam and for the glory of Allah. And it is for good reason that the cry “Allahu Akbar” inspires terror in the hearts of non-Muslims the world over.
Now, the pope’s comments about Catholic violence – “every day, when I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy… this one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law… and these are baptized Catholics! There are violent Catholics!” – these comments do not in any way refer to actual Catholic violence. Nor do they refer to a movement or organization of Catholic violence. Nor could we find a Catholic in the universe who would claim that the acts committed by the above mentioned men were motivated by a particular reading of the Catholic religion and supported by even a single priest or bishop. Rather, these acts are merely two examples of violence committed by people who happen to be Catholic. The guy who murdered his girlfriend did not do so inspired by a Gospel verse. The man who murdered his mother-in-law did not do so to gain a heavenly reward promised in a paragraph of the Catechism. There is no association whatsoever between their crimes and their Catholic religion. On the contrary, Catholics who commit such acts and die unrepentant can be certain that they will burn in hell for eternity. And that is the defined teaching of the Church. But the case is just the opposite regarding atrocities committed by Muslims. Such acts of violence are blatantly religious, and the perpetrators are determined to their dying breath to make this clear to all who can hear. Allahu Akbar! Allah is greatest!
The claim is often made that it is only fanatical Muslims who kill in the name of Islam; these persons are allegedly isolated demented individuals who clearly are misusing Koranic texts and giving them interpretations that good peace-loving Muslims do not. So, the religion and its book are not to be blamed, but only such mistaken loners.
The main question here is: How does one know precisely what is, and what is not, authentic Islamic teaching? What definitive Islamic authority can settle all disputes of interpretation? After all, Catholicism has an authoritative Sacred Tradition, a magisterium, and a charism of papal infallibility that can settle all questions and disputes regarding Catholic doctrine and morals. If Pope Francis wanted to, he could appeal to his authority on the highest level and define a truth that all Catholics would then be bound to hold, under pain of mortal sin. Can Islam do the same? No, it cannot. Instead, there are schools of thought and law, with Islamic Imams and scholars differing on important issues – one of them being the true nature of Jihad. For example, British Imam Ali Hammadu teaches that, because the end of the world is near, it is permissible for a man to have sex slaves. His teachings have been called “radical,” “twisted,” and “hard-line,” but says who? Who among the Muslims can authoritatively, definitely, and universally settle this question, or any other question regarding Islamic faith and morals? Is there a universal Imam appealed to in the Quran whose successors now make such decisions? No, there is not. Islam does not have a “pope” that can settle such issues for all the world’s Muslims.
This introduces the next question: Who can tell us if Islam is, or is not, a violent religion? Those Koranic verses about killing in the service of Allah – what Muslim can definitively explain to us infidels and unbelievers whether they refer to the actual murdering of people, or to the metaphorical killing of vice, or to both? Who can determine whether the Muslim so-called “fanatic” who goes on a killing spree after Friday prayers is actually the devout Muslim, so that those peace-loving non-violent Muslims are actually the indifferent who couldn’t be bothered to suffer or even lose their lives in the service of Allah? Are the warriors of ISIS the true Muslims who serve and die for Allah and gain the 72 promised “houris” in a sensual paradise? They certainly believe they are, and they happen to study the Quran for hours each day. And yet, non-Muslims do not hesitate to insist that ISIS has it all wrong, that they do not understand their own religion nearly as well as we understand their religion – we who have never even read the Quran!
If we want to make a legitimate claim that Catholicism is equally violent to Islam, then we have to produce countless examples of Catholics emerging from their Good Friday services and going on killing sprees, say, at nursing homes. If we can find many cases of this happening decade after decade, then perhaps we have a case. But who is cowering in fear that a Eucharistic Benediction service will be followed by beheadings committed by Catholics quoting the Gospels and the Catechism and shouting “Te Deum”? The New Testament, the Catechism, and before the Holy Eucharist are the last places where one could find inspiration for violence.
If Catholicism is equally violent to Islam, then let’s please see the daily reports throughout the world of Catholics committing bloody atrocities against the innocent, inspired entirely by their religion. Where are they? And where are the Catholic equivalents of Ali Hammuda?
I have a challenge for all those who claim Islam is an inherently peaceful and tolerant religion: stop repeating the platitudes and read the entire Quran for yourselves. I think you’ll be quite shocked by what you find, starting from the first pages.