French Catholic Church refuses to sign Charlie Hebdo free speech petition

“No one’s concept of what is sacred may be imposed on others,” RSF's declaration states.Reuters

The Catholic Church in France will not sign a declaration on freedom of expression written by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The declaration, proposed in the wake of last month's terror attack on satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, is addressed solely to religious groups. It calls on them to support free speech, regardless of the possibility that faith could be criticised.

"No one's concept of what is sacred may be imposed on others," the declaration states. "Everyone is free to express criticism, even irreverent criticism, of any system of political, philosophical or religious thought."

RSF's Secretary General, Christophe Deloire, said the Paris shootings and subsequent fallout demonstrated "the need for a clear message in support of freedom of information".

Public debate should not be "constrained or limited by the beliefs or sensibilities of this sector of that sector," he added.

The declaration has received support from various faith leaders in France. The head of the Protestant Federation, François Clavairoly, Dalil Boubakeur, who leads the Paris Mosque and the French Council of Muslim Worship and the president of the French Buddhist Union, Marie-Stella Boussemart, have all signed the document.

Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia has lent his support to the principle of the declaration, but has called for a collective response from all faith leaders in France.

However, there is not a representative from the Catholic Church among the signatories. According to the Tablet, the president of the bishops' conference, Archbishop of Marseille Georges Pontier, said that the declaration "seems to suspect religions of being not very active in supporting free speech, if not actually opposed to it".

He noted that the Church does not sign declarations that it has not helped to draft, and expressed regret that the RSF's campaign targeted only religious leaders, and no other groups.