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Caricatures of Mohammed are a "scandal," prelate says

Rome, Feb. 03 ( - An influential Vatican prelate has declared that caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, published in the European press, are a "scandal."

In the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini wrote that the deliberate mockery of religious beliefs is offensive, and should be curbed. He said that the cartoons which have caused a furor across Europe and the Islamic world illustrated a tendency in Western society to consider liberty of expression as an absolute right.

The Vatican has not issued any statement about cartoons, originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, that depicted Mohammed in a series of unflattering pictures, including one in which the founder of Islam is wearing a bomb as a turban. The caricatures prompted a wave of angry protests and threats from Muslim leaders, which in turn drew a counter-protest by European journalists. Newspapers in Germany, France, and Spain have now reproduced the cartoons as a sign of defiance in the face of Islamic threats.

Cardinal Silvestrini, the former prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, said that journalists should recognize reasonable restraint in expressing their opinions. He argued that the widespread acceptance of a "freedom to mock, to offend the sentiments of others," and to insult an entire religious group, is an abuse of free speech.

The Italian cardinal, who is now retired from his Vatican post, said that even a secular society should recognize the demands of decency and the limits of public tolerance. Noting that European laws punish individuals who desecrate their nation's flags, he argued that public displays of contempt for religious symbols should also be penalized.

A secular society is based on the presumption that citizens will show respect for one another, Cardinal Silvestrini observed. He added that laws allow individuals to institute legal action when they are personally harmed by libel or defamation. "But if the offenses are against God or Allah, the Gospel or the Qu'ran, how can they defend themselves?" he asked.



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved