Priest battles ‘hate crime’ charges for criticizing Islam — By: Catholic News Agency

Father Custodio Ballester serves a parish in the Archdiocese of Barcelona, Spain. / Credit: Courtesy of

Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mar 5, 2024 / 10:15 am (CNA).

A Spanish priest is facing up to three years in prison on “hate crime” charges for his heated words about Islam.

Last month, Father Custodio Ballester and two other individuals received a summons from a provincial court in Spain to answer charges of an alleged “hate crime” for criticizing Islamic extremism. 

If convicted, Ballester could be forced to pay a fine of more than $1,600 and serve up to three years in prison. The charges date back to 2020, when the Court Prosecutor’s Office in Catalonia  accused Ballester of a “hate crime” based on what he wrote in a 2016 article titled The Impossible Dialogue with Islam.

Four years later, Ballester is still awaiting trial on criminal charges for criticizing the faith that he says aims to “destroy” all those who refuse to recognize Mohammed as “the last and ultimate prophet of God.” 

“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,” he told CNA. 

Ballester, 59, serves a parish in Barcelona within the archdiocese led by Bishop Juan José Omella. He has long been known for his pro-life activism.

“In Spain, ‘hate crime’ was invented and is directed at any speech that directly or indirectly refers to discrimination, encouragement of hostility, or inducement to violence,” Ballester told CNA. Previously, he pointed out, the criminal code was directed at whether someone had actually done something.

Asked whether he is prepared to spend three years in prison should he be convicted on the hate crime charges, 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.”

“There is no longer any true right to free speech in Spain,” Ballester said.

Ballester has never been reluctant to speak out, even when it means challenging the perspective of his own bishop. The essay that earned him the hate crime charge was originally a response to a pastoral message from Omella titled “The Necessary Dialogue with Islam.”  

In his controversial response, Ballester wrote: “This new reactivation of Christian-Muslim dialogue, paralyzed by the alleged ‘imprudences’ on the part of the late Pope Benedict XVI, is very far from becoming a reality. Islam does not allow dialogue. For Islam, either you believe, or you are an infidel who must be subdued one way or another.”

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