The Coptic Orthodox Church Diocese of Los Angeles is condemning an anti-Muslim film that has enraged the Arab world and may have been created by a man who occasionally attends churches within the diocese.
On Thursday, His Grace Bishop Serapion of the Diocese of Los Angeles told The Associated Press that he recently spoke with Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who is said to have created the "Innocence of Muslims" film.
Nakoula told the bishop he had no involvement in creating the film, though he told the AP on Wednesday that he managed logistics for the company that created it. Previously, the film was thought to have been written and directed by a man named Sam Bacile, but AP reports aided by a U.S. law enforcement official suggest the name Bacile was a pseudonym used by Nakoula.
In an "urgent" press release posted to the diocese's website on Thursday, the church condemned both the film and the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya, where U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy employees were killed.
"Hope must be brought to desperate places, kindness and mercy must be given a chance. However, hope will not thrive in the midst of hatred and violence. Therefore, those who are responsible for this brutal act must be brought to justice in order to give hope a chance," said Serapion.
He also stated that those who produced the "inflammatory movie" should be held responsible and Coptic Christians in general should not be blamed for its content.
"Copts across the Diaspora never participated in any humiliation or violence against those who often persecute Christians. It is not the Christian way to respond to hatred with hate. Christianity prohibits a Christian from such acts," said Serapion.
"If burning the Holy Bible is wrong, then burning any book revered or respected by others is equally wrong. Holistically blaming the Copts for the production of this movie is equivalent to holistically blaming Muslims for the actions of a few fanatics. Even though Christians often face persecution, injustice and calls for open attacks over the airwaves, we reject violence in all its forms."
"Innocence of Muslims" negatively depicts the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a womanizer with mindless followers, and has served as a catalyst for attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya. Other protests over the film, some of them violent, have been staged in Yemen, Lebanon, Bangladesh, London, Afghanistan, Palestine, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, the BBC reports.
Although Nakoula has been identified as a Coptic Christian, Serapion told The Los Angeles Times that he spoke with leaders within the diocese and found out Nakoula is not a regular member of churches in the diocese, and at times he "disappears for many months." Nakoula also has a history of using different aliases, the Times reports, and was released last summer following a 21-month stint in federal prison that he served after being convicted in an identity theft scheme in 2010.