Pontiff defends freedom of speech en route to the Philippines but says ‘you cannot insult the faith of others’
Pope Francis has said there are limits to freedom of expression and that following the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris “one cannot make fun of faith”.
On a plane from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the largest Catholic majority country in Asia, the pope said freedom of speech was a fundamental human right but “every religion has its dignity”.
Asked about the attack that killed 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo – targeted because it had printed depictions of the prophet Muhammad – he said: “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.
“There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”
He gestured to Alberto Gasparri, who organises papal trips and was standing by his side, and added: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
Cautioning against provocation he said the right to liberty of expression came with the obligation to speak for “the common good”.
The pontiff also said he was convinced that global warming was “mostly” man-made and that man had “slapped nature in the face”. He expressed the hope that the upcoming Vatican encyclical – the most authoritative documents a pope can issue – on the environment, would encourage negotiators at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in November to make courageous decisions to protect God’s creation.
Francis is due to meet survivors of typhoon Haiyan, which the Philippine government has said was an example of the extreme weather conditions caused by global warming.
“I don’t know if [human activity] is the only cause, but mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face,” he said. “We have in a sense taken over nature.”
Francis, who has been critical of a “culture of waste” since he became pope, said the mass cultivation of single crops and deforestation had been over-exploited.
“I think we have exploited nature too much,” he said. “Thanks be to God that today there are voices, so many people who are speaking out about it.”
Francis has thrown the Catholic church into the fight to combat climate change since becoming pope and has said that the Vatican’s encyclical on ecology would be released by June or July, in order to give people plenty of time to digest the material before the next round of climate change negotiations.
“The meetings in Peru were nothing much, I was disappointed,” he said. “There was a lack of courage. They stopped at a certain point. We hope that in Paris the representatives have more courage to go forward.”
Francis said his four-day trip to the Philippines would focus on the poor, the exploited and victims of injustice. He was greeted by ecstatic crowds when he arrived in Manila on Thursday after being met with flowers at the airport by two children from a shelter: 10-year-old Mark Angelo Balberos and nine-year-old Lanie Ortillo. As the wind flew off with his papal skullcap, known as a zuchetta, he hugged and kissed the children.
“I told him bienvenido (welcome), and he said yes, bienvenido,” Lanie said. She added: “While I was hugging him I prayed that he could help more children, not only the two of us.”
Before the start of the first papal visit to Asia’s largest Catholic nation in 20 years, Francis said: “The central nut of the message will be the poor, the poor who want to go forward, the poor who suffered from typhoon Haiyan and are continuing to suffer the consequences.”
His message will resonate in a country where poverty afflicts nearly a quarter of the 100 million people and where many Filipinos leave their families in search of jobs abroad. Social activists in Manila have urged Francis to be a champion of downtrodden Filipinos.
Before a makeshift altar in front of a statue of working man and national hero Andres Bonifacio, a large banner read: “Welcome Pope Francis! Hear the cry of the poor and oppressed. Stand with us for justice and peace.”
Roman Catholic priest the Rev Ben Alforque said poor Filipinos include landless peasants, underpaid workers, homeless children, indigenous tribes and political prisoners. “The church of the poor is in the heart of Pope Francis,” he said.
• This article was amended on 15 January 2015 to remove the assertion that the last round of climate change talks in Peru failed to reach an agreement. As we reported at the time, a plan to fight global warming was reached there, as a first step towards a deal due to be finalised in Paris.