VATICAN CITY – Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, is heading to Kyiv this week as Holy See seeks to balance his concerns for Ukrainians by trying to open a channel of dialogue with Russia.
The trip comes when Holy See points a fine line at trying to maintain a newly developed relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church while “Martyr” supports Ukrainian faithful. At the same time, the Holy See is often associated with Pope Francis’ repeated condemnation of the arms industry and his “crazy” approach to re-arming Ukraine with Catholic teachings, which he says has the right and duty to resist an “unjust aggressor.”
“It has to be proportional,” Galai told RAI state television in announcing his trip. “Yes, Ukraine has a right to self-defense and it needs weapons to do that, but it has to be prudent in the way it is done.”
Gallagher, a 68-year-old career Vatican diplomat from Liverpool, became the third pope envoy sent to the region by Francis, while two faithful cardinals went to Ukraine and border countries to assess the humanitarian needs of Ukrainian refugees and bring their papal solidarity. .
Francis has been criticized by some for refusing to name Russia or President Vladimir Putin by name, although he has escalated criticism of the “barbaric” war and recently met with the wives of two Ukrainian soldiers near the besieged steel mill in Mariupol. “This is a gesture of our concern and participation in the grief of the family,” says Gallagher.
Francis’s lower-middle line is evidence of the Holy See’s diplomatic tradition of not naming the aggressors and trying to keep the door open for negotiations with both sides in a conflict. This so-called “ostopolitic” refers to the Vatican’s Cold War policy of maintaining relations with the same communist regime that persecuted Catholic loyalists on the ground.
In the case of Ukraine, Holy See is keen not to sever the newly developed relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, which took a big step when Francis met with the Russian Patriarch, Kirill, in Havana in 2016.
Francis has so far turned down an invitation from President Vladimir Zelensky to visit Ukraine, recently saying he would like to go to Moscow first. Francis says he was quick to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the Russian leader has not yet responded.
Francis, however, canceled a planned meeting in June with Kirill, who had justified Putin’s war on ideological and spiritual grounds. Francis said Vatican diplomats – probably Gallagher and his boss, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state – understood that optics would be bad.
But the Vatican is still pursuing its diplomatic efforts in the hope of at least a ceasefire.
“Holy See has this job,” Gallagher told RAI. “We never try to put ourselves on one side or the other, but try to create a space for dialogue and to be available to all in the interest of peace and to find a solution to this terrible conflict.”