By Thomas Williams
In a press conference Sunday, Pope Francis appeared to suggest that all religions are equally prone to violence and that Islam and Christianity are the same in this regard.
When asked by a journalist about the “barbarous assassination of Fr. Jacques Hamel” in northern France who was clearly “killed in the name of Islam” last Tuesday, the Pope replied that he doesn’t like speaking about Islamic violence because there is plenty of Christian violence as well.
In the brief press conference aboard the papal plane returning from Krakow, Poland, the Pope said that every day when he browses the newspapers, he sees violence in Italy perpetrated by Christians: “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,” Francis said. “And no, not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad; there’s everything.”
In his response, Pope Francis seemed to suggest that jihadists killing innocent people in the name of Allah is not significantly different from a Catholic who kills his girlfriend or mother-in-law, presumably for motives unrelated to the Christian religion.
Francis acknowledged that there are “violent persons of this religion [Islam],” immediately adding that “in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists. We have them.”
The Pope asserted moreover that he knows how Muslims think, and that deep down they desire peace and harmony just as Christians do.
“I had a long conversation with the imam, the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar University, and I know how they think,” he said. “They seek peace, encounter.”
“I do not believe it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right or true,” he said.
The Pope insisted that the Islamic State does not draw its ideology from the religion of Islam, but appeals rather to the emptiness of young people and a love for violence.
“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,” he said. “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 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,” he said.
The Pope concluded by suggesting that Islamic terrorism does not stem from any violence inherent to Islam itself, but rather from other non-religious motives, such as poverty.
“Terrorism grows when there are no other options, and when the center of the global economy is the god of money and not the person,” Francis said. “You have cast out the wonder of creation — man and woman — and you have put money in its place. This is a basic terrorism against all of humanity! Think about it!” he said.