Pope Francis Criticized by Piers Morgan for Saying He Would Punch Someone for Insulting His Mother; Vatican Defends Remarks

Pope Francis waves during his visit in Tirana, September 21, 2014. Pope Francis is on a one-day trip to Albania, his first to a European country, to pay tribute to followers of all religions who suffered some of the worst persecution in the 20th century, and to hold up the impoverished nation as a model of inter-religious harmony. | (Photo: Reuters/Arben Celi)

Pope Francis' recent comments that he would punch someone for insulting his mother have been criticized by some Catholics, such as former CNN host Piers Morgan. The Vatican has defended the remarks, however, noting that they represented a "free style of speech," and that the pope does not condone violence.

"The Pope's words about Dr. Gasbarri were spoken colloquially and in (a) friendly, intimate manner among colleagues and friends," Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica told CNN. "His response might be similar to something each of us has felt when those dearest to us are insulted or harmed."

The Roman Catholic Church leader said that he would punch someone for insulting his mother while on board a flight to the Philippines on Thursday.

"If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," the pope said, referring to his aid, Alberto Gasparri.

The comments were made in response to journalists' questions about the terror attacks on Paris last week that left 17 people dead. The attacks targeted French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo for its drawings depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, deemed insulting to many in the Islamic world.

Francis said it is wrong to insult the faith of others, though he also condemned the killings.

"There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others," Francis said.

"They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit."

The pope's comments were criticized by a number of commentators online, and Morgan wrote in an article for The Daily Mail on Thursday that he could "barely believe" that Francis would endorse violence as a means to respond to insults.

"Here was my Holy Father, supposedly a man who espouses the philosophy of turning the other cheek, telling us all to whack someone in the face if they insult us," Morgan wrote.

"Well, isn't that exactly what al Qaida did in Paris, metaphorically speaking?"

The TV host said that Francis' comments can very easily be seen as attempting to justify the attacks on Paris, since the Islamic gunmen also claimed they were insulted by Charlie Hebdo's cartoons and had to seek revenge.

"Violence is violence, it's just a question of degree," Morgan wrote.

"The clear message from what he said is that nobody can mock, insult or poke fun at any religion. And further, that if someone insults you, even over non-religious things like your family, you have every right to use violence as a response."

Rosica insisted, however, that it would be wrong to interpret Francis' comments as justifying the attack on Paris.

"The pope has spoken out clearly against the terror and violence that occurred in Paris and in other parts of the world," the Vatican spokesman said. He added that the remarks "must be taken at face value and not distorted or manipulated."

The terror attacks last week prompted widespread support for Charlie Hebdo's freedom of speech, with over 40 world leaders and millions of French people filling the country's streets in solidarity with the victims and in union against terrorism.

Charlie Hebdo's first edition since the attacks, released on Wednesday, chose again to depict Muhammad, this time in a somber tone holding the popular "Je suis Charlie" sign.

Other Christian leaders have also spoken out against insulting religion, however, and Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II said that such insults must be rejected "at all levels."

"I refuse any form of personal insult, and when the insult is related to religions, they cannot be approved neither at a human, nor at a moral and social level. They do not help the peace in the world, and do not produce any benefit," the Coptic patriarch said in a statement.

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