Priest faces up to three years in prison for criticising Islam

Country: Spain

Date of incident: March 5, 2024

As reported by the Catholic News Agency on March 5, Fr. Custodio Ballester, parish priest from Barcelona, and two other individuals received a summons from a provincial court in Spain in February to answer charges of an alleged “hate crime” for criticising Islam. The charges were initially brought in 2020, when Catalonia's public prosecutor claimed that Fr. Ballester's 2016 article entitled 'The impossible dialogue with Islam' met the criteria of a 'hate crime'. If convicted, Ballester faces up to three years in prison and a fine of more than EUR 1,500.

The essay for which Fr. Ballester is now facing criminal charges was a response to a pastoral letter from Cardinal Juan José Omella, entitled 'the necessary dialogue with Islam'. In his refutation of the pastoral letter, Father Ballester wrote: "This new reactivation of Christian-Muslim dialogue, paralysed by the alleged 'imprudences' of the late Pope Benedict XVI, is far from becoming a reality. Islam does not allow dialogue. For Islam, either you believe, or you are an infidel who must be subjugated in one way or another'.

He furthermore quoted Sura 9:29 of the Qur'an at the beginning of his article: 'Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, and those among the people of the Scripture who do not choose the religion of truth, until they humbly pay the tribute, and are subjugated.'

"In countries where Muslims have power, Christians are brutally persecuted and killed," the Spanish priest said in his essay. "What dialogue are we talking about then? (...) Christians in Muslim territory are tolerated and "protected", they are dhimmi, that is, if they pay the Islamic power by paying the jizya, a special tax paid only by Christians, in order to be able to practise their faith without being persecuted and condemned. (...) And this, of course, is a special situation of grace that can be terminated when the religious or political powers see fit."

Current dialoge with Pope Francis "will not change the nature of an Islam founded on a direct and immediate revelation that becomes a book - the Qur'an - indisputable and uninterpretable," he continued. "As it is written, it must be believed. Prayer, almsgiving, pilgrimage to Mecca and... also jihad and the extermination of the infidels!" 

Commenting on the charges brought against him, Ballester said: “It doesn’t seem right to be convicted for something I’ve said, but in Spain anything is possible. But if I am convicted, this will no longer be Spain but Pakistan, where you can be killed for blaspheming the Koran or Mohammed.”

He furthermore underlined that he was not criticising all Muslims, but only those prone to violence:  “I know Muslims who were not offended and understood perfectly well that I was not referring to them but to those who live Islam in a violent, radical way.” 

Sources: “The Impossible Dialogue with Islam” (original essay), CNA, R21

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