ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis said Monday he wasn't justifying violence when he said a friend who had cursed his mother could "expect a punch" in return. Rather, he says he was only expressing a very human response to a provocation and that greater prudence was necessary to avoid such offense.
Francis clarified his comments about the limits of freedom of speech made last week in response to the terrorist attack against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Speaking to reporters en route home from the Philippines, Francis said: "In theory we can say a violent reaction to an offense or provocation isn't a good thing, that one shouldn't do it. In theory we can say what Gospel says, that we should turn the other cheek. In theory we can say that we have the freedom to express ourselves," he said. "But we are human. And there is prudence, which is a virtue of human coexistence. I cannot insult or provoke someone continually because I risk making him angry."
The "punch" line, and the confusion it caused, was a reflection of how Francis' informal, and sometimes unpapal, sense of humor can sometime cause confusion or get him in trouble.
In fact, moments after clarifying his Charlie Hebdo remarks, Francis told a story about a run-in he had back in the 1990s in Buenos Aires with two corrupt public officials who offered him the equivalent of $400,000 for his works of charity on the condition that they get some of it back as a kickback.
"And in that moment I thought, 'What should I do? Either insult them and kick them where the sun doesn't shine, or play the fool," Francis said.
He said he ended up playing the fool, but his response was further evidence that his casual speaking style is just that: casual.