24th Oct 2016

Brussels defends Pope's freedom of expression

  • The pope's quotes should not be taken out of context, says Brussels (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has said it was wrong to pick out quotes from the pope's controversial speech in which a link between Islam and violence was suggested and deliberately taking them out of context.

Speaking to journalists on Monday (18 September), commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said that the commission would not "clarify or interpret" the speech which has sparked furore across Muslim world, as Brussels considers it "a theological contribution to a theological debate."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But he added that "in the commission's view, any reaction must be based on what was actually said and not on quotes being taken out of context. And even less on quotes being deliberately taken out of context."

"And generally speaking, I can also say that reactions which are disproportionate and which are tantamount to rejecting freedom of speech are unacceptable and let me conclude with this: freedom of speech is a cornerstone of the EU's order as is the freedom and respect of all religions and beliefs, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or laicism," he continued.

The commission's statement comes a day after the head of the Catholic Church, Benedict XVI, himself argued that the excerpts from his speech were misinterpreted.

"These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought," he explained.

He referred to a quote in his speech by a 14th century Byzantine emperor who claimed the prophet Muhammed's teaching had brought along "evil and inhuman" ideas, "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Different notions of God and holy war

The pontiff's speech - delivered last week to scientists at the University of Regensburg where he was a professor and vice rector from 1969 to 1971 – examined the impact of Greek philosophy on Christian theology, particularly on the concept of reason and its place in religion.

In the paragraph with the controversial quote, the pope pointed to a dialogue in around 1391 between the emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian about Christianity and Islam.

In the text, the emperor argues that spreading the faith through violence, holy war or jihad - as suggested by the prophet Mohammed - is something unreasonable, while "not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature."

Benedict XVI pointed out that while this notion was "self-evident" for the emperor - shaped by Greek philosophy, it was not so for some Muslim thinkers of the past.

He argues that due to this "rapprochement" between Christianity and Greek philosophy and its concept of reason, "it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe."

"We can also express this the other way around: This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe," added the pontiff.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  2. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  3. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  4. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  5. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  6. EASPDJoin the Trip! 20 Years on the Road. Conference & Photo Exhibition on 19-21 October
  7. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  8. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  9. Dialogue PlatformIs Jihadism Blind Spot of Western Intellectuals ? Wednesday 26 October
  10. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  11. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  12. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity