[Austen Ivereigh] There are violent people and fundamentalists in all religions, it is not fair to identify Islam with violence, and terrorists are often jobless Europeans in a society that no longer teaches ideals, Pope Francis told reporters on last night’s papal flight back from Krakow.
Asked why he never refers to the word Islam when Fr Jacques Hamel and many others were killed in its name, Francis said he disliked speaking of “Islamic violence” when every day in the news there were stories of violence and murders by baptised Catholics. “If I were to speak of Islamic violence, should I not also have to speak of Catholic violence?” he asked rhetorically, adding:
One thing is for sure: in almost every religion there is always a small fundamentalist group. We, too, have them. And when fundamentalism gets to kill — you can kill with the tongue, as James the Apostle says, not me, or you can kill with the knife — it is not fair to identify Islam with violence.
The Pope said he had held a lengthy dialogue with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based university described by some as ‘the Vatican of the Sunni world’. “They look for peace, encounter,” he said.
Adding that a nuncio to an African country told him that in the capital there were always queues of Muslims waiting to pass through the Door of Mercy, he added: “I wonder, how many young people in Europe have been left empty of ideals, who have no work, who turn to drugs and alcohol, or enrol [in terrorist organizations]?”
While “the so-called ISIS is an Islamic state that presents itself as violent”, he said, it was no more than a “small group” within Islam. “It is not true and it is not fair to say that Islam is terrorist”, the Pope added.
He went on to say that “terrorism grows when there is no other option”, adding: “Now I am going to say something that could be dangerous … But when you put the god of at the center of the world economy, and not men and women, this is a first terrorism. You have expelled the marvel of creation and put money at the center. This is a starting-point of terrorism … think about it.”
Pope Francis’s refusal to label Islam and Muslims as violent is in contrast to many commentators, including Catholics, who have claimed that ISIS is simply mainstream Islam put into practice. Some commentators have also sought to link the rise of Islamism to the tide of Muslim refugees fleeing the Syrian and Iraq wars.
On Friday, an imam in the Normandy town where Fr Hamel was slain furiously denounced the killers, while on Sunday, at the urging of the main Muslim umbrella group in France, Muslims joined Catholics at Mass to express their abhorrence of the killing of Fr Hamel.
Also on the flight, Pope Francis said that it would be wrong for him or anyone else to pass judgement on a fresh series of allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal George Pell, the Australian prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy in Rome who was for many years Archbishop of Melbourne and later of Sydney.
The 40-year-old allegations were made — and vehemently denied by Cardinal Pell’s office — last week. Pope Francis told journalists on the flight that there was a “clear principle in law: in dubio prop reo“, meaning that until proven otherwise, the accused should have the benefit of the doubt.
“Once justice has spoken, I will speak,” the Pope said.
Asked why he had been silent about the mass crackdown in Turkey against supposed opponents of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Francis said he had not been afraid to offend Turkey over the Armenian genocide because he had been sure of his facts. But in current circumstances the information he had received was uncertain. “I am studying the situation, together with the Secretariat of State, and things are not yet clear,” he said.
Pope Francis also explained why he had stumbled at the Jasna Gora Mass on Thursday: “I was looking at the Virgin, and I forgot the step,” he said, adding: “I had the thurible in my hand and when I felt myself falling I let myself go, and that saved me. If I had resisted, I would have suffered the consequences.”
Also on board the flight, Pope Francis remembered an Italian television journalist, Annamaria Bianchini, who died last week in Krakow while covering WYD. He also marked the end of the long tenure of Fr Federico Lombardi as director of Vatican Radio and director of the Holy See Press Office, thanking him for his service.
The Pope also donned a Panama hat presented to him by Javier Martínez-Brocal of Rome Reports. Panama will host the next WYD, in 2019.