VATICAN CITY – In the three months since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against the plight of Ukrainians. He called the war “cruel and stupid” and kissed the Ukrainian flag. Last week, she met with Ukrainian women who said their husbands were protecting the blocked Mariupol steel plant.
But the pope’s message about the war is making headlines, even to some supporters.
He has clearly refrained from condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin as aggressive. He has criticized Western sanctions and defense spending. And in an interview published by an Italian newspaper this month, Francis was seen echoing the Kremlin’s statement, citing “NATO barking at Russia’s door” as one of the reasons for Putin’s anger.
For Francis, 85, the war has become a second landmark event since the epidemic, which has come to define his pontifical agenda. And while he was widely acknowledged for his outspokenness about the coronavirus – the isolation it created, the dangers of unequal vaccine delivery – Francis sparked a controversy in the church about his approach to the war and whether he was being too cautious. Towards Russia and very interested in maintaining relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Thomas Bremer, a theologian at the University of Mস্টnster, said, “There are some people like me who think that how he has acted so far is not enough,” arguing that both Russia and the Russian Church have compromised too much to qualify for an effort. In maintaining good relations. “No ‘business as usual’ is possible at the moment. It can’t be the same as it was six months ago. “
Defenders of Francis’s strategy say the pope maintains a neutrality that has long been at the center of Holy See diplomacy. Francis says calling a head of state is not the role of a religious leader. And in contrast to World War II, when Jewish communities accused the Church of turning a blind eye, Francis highlighted the suffering that was happening.
The pope has positioned himself in a way that, in theory, would make the church a credible player in any mediation – said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “To appreciate“
“He is not behaving like Putin, he is calling other people Nazis, or he is saying like Biden that Putin has to go,” said Marco Politi, a pope biographer who argued that Francis wisely avoided personalizing the conflict.
In a more critical statement, however, Francis misunderstands war and destroys some of his moral authority in a conflict where religion and Christianity are intertwined in politics and war.
Although Catholic education has long held that countries have the right to self-defense under certain circumstances, the pope’s statements were vague enough to reassure Catholics that he thinks Ukraine’s defense is justified.
Francis said in March that wars were “always unjust.” In his interview with Corriere della Sera earlier this month, he was skeptical about whether it was appropriate to send arms to Ukraine. “I don’t know,” he said, then accusing them of producing and selling weapons.
It is up to the leaders of other churches to say that the use of arms against Russian forces in Ukraine is morally justified. “Ukraine has a right to self-defense,” said Archbishop Paul Gallagher, de facto foreign minister in the Vatican, in a recent TV interview.
The pope’s most critical effort in the war was aimed at establishing a symbolic peace – a cross carrying a Ukrainian and a Russian woman together on Good Friday. Originally, the women were supposed to read a short paragraph, saying: “Why did you leave us? Why did you abandon our people? ” But many Ukrainians say such messages would mistakenly equate Ukrainians and Russians as victims of war. The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, called the idea “inappropriate.”
The recitation was eventually canceled – a decision the pope was responsible for in a conversation with his Polish cardinal, Konrad Krazevsky. Francis admitted in an interview with Correa that the Ukrainians were “outraged” by the plan, yet he suggested: “They are very sensitive, the Ukrainians, probably defeated and humiliated after World War II.”
There have been multiple criticisms of the pope’s approach, including figures moving away from traditional circles.
Most directly, Giovanni Maria Vian, a former editor of the Vatican newspaper, told Spanish outlet La Vanguardia that Francis had risked throwing the Holy See into a “historic mess” “to show that he was neither one nor the other.” Vian clearly mentions that Pius XII is remembered by many historians for not being vocal enough about the evils of Nazism.
For Francis, perhaps the most personally delicate aspect of the war is his relationship with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has become one of the main supporters of the war. Francis met with Kirill in Havana in 2016, a move aimed at repairing centuries-old divisions since the split of Eastern Orthodoxism from Western Christianity.
A second meeting scheduled for June in Jerusalem has been canceled, the pope said, because “it could send the wrong message.” According to Francis, he warned Kirill about zooming in to justify war, not Putin’s “son of the altar.”
Pope warns Russian Orthodox leader not to be ‘son of Putin’s altar’
John Allen, editor of the Catholic publication Crax, noted in an op-ed that various papal statements throughout the war “seem to have been almost deliberately calculated to make people guess.” He linked some uncertainties to the nature of Francis – a non-European pope who did not seem interested in following the rules of the Western powers. Allen writes that Francis has been able to open the door to the Orthodox world, and from the church’s long view, some things are more important to the pope than the “search for Christian unity.”
“Without the Russians, no global detention with Orthodox will ever be possible,” Allen wrote.
Francis has so far sent a number of deputies to Ukraine, most recently Gallagher. However, the pope made it clear that his choice was to go to Moscow first. In an interview with Corriere, he said that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a second-ranking Vatican official, had expressed interest in Putin’s visit to Putin.
But no invitation has come yet.
“We keep pushing them,” Francis said. “However, I fear that Putin will not be able to agree to our meeting at this time. But how can you try and do what you can to stop the atrocities?