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20th Apr 2019

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."

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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.

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