Barking NATO + critique of Pat Kirill: What is Pope playing around Ukraine?
The Pope made a scandalous statement, actually justifying Russia's aggression against Ukraine. We analyze the pontiff's interview to the Italian edition.
In mid-March 2022, Pope Francis gave an interview to the Corriere Della Sera newspaper that instantly became scandalous. It was triggered by the statements related to the war in Ukraine. Europeans and Ukrainians were offended by the words that “NATO barking” provoked Putin to attack; offended by the Pope and the Russian Orthodox Church. Why? Moreover, what did the pontiff want to convey? Let's figure it out.
Pope Francis: “On the first day of the war, I called Ukrainian President Zelensky. I didn't call Putin. I talked to him on my birthday in December, but this time no, I didn't make a call. I wanted to make a clear gesture, and for this purpose I went to the Russian ambassador. I asked them for explanations. I said, ‘Please stop.’"
It means that on the very first day of the warfare, the pope outlined his position with a symbolic call to V. Zelensky and a refusal to call V. Putin. This gesture was calculated to show the entire world that the pontiff is on the side of Ukraine. Although, a similar call to Putin with an unequivocal condemnation of aggression and demands to stop it would be much more significant in indicating the true position of the Vatican.
The next point makes us think even more about what this true position consists in. On the same day, the press service of the Vatican issued the following statement regarding Russian aggression.
In this statement:
- The Vatican DID NOT call Russia's actions either aggression, or war, or invasion, but confined itself to the diplomatic wording: "military actions";
- the expression “exacerbating crisis in Ukraine” was used instead of the word “war”;
- The Vatican DID NOT condemned Russia's actions, NOR did it call for an end to the invasion. Instead, Pope Francis "called on all parties concerned" to "refrain from any action that could cause more suffering to the peoples..." and also expressed the hope that "there is still room for negotiations."
Why is the official statement of the Vatican not condemning the aggression, but, on the contrary, expressed in a tone poignantly respectful for the Russian Federation? Presumably, Pope Francis, like most politicians in the West, was sure that Kyiv would fall in a maximum of 96 hours. To condemn the “winner” is like spitting against the wind. This is how politicians think.
However, true shepherds act quite differently. Let us compare the statement of the Vatican with what His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry said on the same day, February 24, 2022:
“I urge you, first of all, to intense repentant prayer for Ukraine, for our army and our people, I ask you to forget mutual strife and disagreements and unite in love for God and for our Motherland. In this tragic time, we express our particular love and support to our soldiers who stand guard and protect and defend our land and our people. May God bless and keep them safe! Defending the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, we appeal to the President of Russia and ask to immediately stop the fratricidal war. The Ukrainian and Russian peoples came out of the Dnieper baptismal font, and the war between these nations is a repetition of the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother out of envy. Such a war has no justification either with God or with people.”
We reiterate that it was said on the very first day of the war, against the background of the same predictions about "96 hours". By the way, two weeks later, when it became clear that the victory of the Russian Federation, to put it mildly, was not near, the rhetoric of Pope Francis changed dramatically: he began to urge to “stop unacceptable armed aggression”, “stop bombing and attacks”, “stop this massacre” etc. But even against the backdrop of this rhetoric, Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin implicitly suggested that Ukraine end resistance: “In the face of what is happening, we must ask ourselves a question: are we doing everything possible to achieve a truce? Is armed resistance the only way forward?" (From an interview with Vatican News).
Pope's desire to go to Moscow rather than to Kyiv
Pope Francis: "Then I asked Cardinal Parolin to send a message to Putin after twenty days of war that I was ready to go to Moscow."
"I asked to convey a message to Putin that I was ready to go to Moscow."
Why would Pope Francis go to Moscow? Can he persuade V. Putin to end the war or utter whatever threats? Maybe the pontiff would represent some world political forces at such negotiations? Far from it. Rather, the point is different: not a single pope has ever been on a visit to Russia. The desire of various pontiffs to pay such a historic visit over and over again came up against a negative reaction from the ROC, hence Pope Francis wants to capture the moment.
However, the pontiff is not going to Kyiv, although he has been repeatedly and persistently invited there for a long time.
Pope Francis: “I will not go to Kyiv yet. I have sent Cardinal Michael Czerny and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who went there for the fourth time. But I feel like I don't have to go. First, I have to go to Moscow and meet with Putin. I am also a priest, what can I do? I do what I can."
Consequently, the Pope wants to repeat the experience of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who first went to Moscow and then to Kyiv. Any diplomat might tell you that such a sequence means that the negotiator finds out the position of one side in the first line and then tries to persuade the other side to accept it. And vice versa. Regarding Guterres, V. Zelensky stated explicitly, “I consider it wrong to first go to Russia and then to Ukraine. It's just not right. What will he come back with? Send us signals from Russia?"
However, there has been no response from the Russian Federation to the proposal for a visit by the pontiff. Nevertheless, Pope Francis said he was still waiting for Putin's response and feared that "the latter doesn't want to meet this time."
"NATO barking at Russia's door"
The Pope told Corriere della Sera that he is trying to understand the sources of Putin's behavior and motives. According to the pontiff, the war was likely provoked "by the NATO barking at Russia’s door." That is, Pope Francis explains to the "city and the world" why Putin started a brutal war and shifts, at least partually, the responsibility for unleashing the war to the NATO countries. The Russian Federation thus already looks less guilty and even right in this situation. Pope Francis' words sound like an excuse for Russia.
According to the pontiff, the war was provoked by the "NATO barking at Russia’s door."
The Pope has already been carefully criticized by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. Its spokesperson, Oleg Nikolayenko, said that Ukraine is "grateful for the efforts of the Pope to establish peace and end the war, which was in no way provoked by Ukraine, NATO or any other third party." However, other countries responded more harshly.
For example, according to RMF24, the Polish Foreign Ministry took the Pope's words "with surprise and disgust." According to the resource, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland unofficially admits that the position of the Holy See is contrary to the Polish state. Diplomats try not to pay much attention to the pope's statements. They assert that the dogma of papal infallibility applies only to matters of faith and not to foreign policy. However, the Polish mission in the Vatican must work even harder to provide reliable information about the war in Ukraine.”
Pretty tough statements given that currently Poland is perhaps the most "Catholic" country in the EU and NATO. In addition, it is unlikely that the pope could not but foresee that his words would cause a backlash in Europe. Still, he voiced them. What’s that if not a step towards Russia?
A 40-minute conversation with Patriarch Kirill
Another scandal was caused by the words about the conversation with Patriarch Kirill. This time, the ROC turned out to be the dissatisfied side. The Pope said he had been talking with the Primate of the Russian Church for 40 minutes, and in the pontiff's interpretation, the conversation boiled down to the following: “For the first twenty minutes, he read to me all the justifications for the war. I listened and said, ‘I don't understand any of this. Brother, we should not speak the language of politics, but the language of Jesus.’"
In addition, the pontiff told the Corriere Della Sera journalist that the Patriarch should not stoop to the role of Putin's "altar boy" (apparently, he means a more commonly used phrase "errand boy").
These words caused a storm of indignation with the Russian Orthodox Church. Stavropol cleric and well-known church blogger Fr. Alvian Tkhelidze called the pope "a harlot who pretends to be an innocent girl", while his words about the Patriarch – "rudeness". The famous priest Pavel Ostrovsky (560,000 subscribers on Instagram and 170,000 on Telegram) described the words of the pope as “shameful”, because, in his opinion, it was a “private conversation”, and the head of the Vatican had no right to divulge its details. Father Pavel compared the interview of the pontiff with the disclosure of the secret of confession.
Nevertheless, the DECR MP divulged this “secret” by publishing an “Explanatory Note” revealing the content of the conversation between the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church and Pope Francis, where the Patriarch “shared his vision of the current difficult situation” around the warfare in Ukraine. It turned out he had told the Catholic leader about the Euromaidan, the tragedy in the Odessa House of Trade Unions, the deployment of NATO bases near the borders of the Russian Federation and the flight time from there to Moscow in minutes.
In other words, the pope did not distort anything in his story about the conversation with the Patriarch, and there is nothing special to reproach him for, except for an unpleasant outburst about the “altar boy”. Nevertheless, almost everyone was dissatisfied with the pontiff in the end – Europeans, Ukrainians, and Russians.
Despite some criticism of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the papal interview can be called pro-Russian, notably against the backdrop of unanimous anti-Russian rhetoric from almost all of Europe. What does it say? The Pope is well aware that both the leadership of the Russian Federation and Patriarch Kirill have seriously compromised themselves in the eyes of the Western community. They are in a state of international isolation, having largely lost their moral authority.
On May 4, 2022, the AFP agency reported that Patriarch Kirill personally appears in the sixth package of sanctions against the Russian Federation, which is now being considered by the EU countries. It is not known how this will affect his financial condition, but the fact that he will be banned from entering the countries of Europe greatly affects his reputation.
And that’s where Pope Francis extends his hand to Patriarch Kirill and offers to break this isolation. However, this is hardly dictated solely by the pontiff's sympathy for the Russian Patriarch. It’s more of a different matter.
The pontiff seems to be trying to position himself as a real Christian leader who does not support any of the warring parties (after all, the West is also involved in the warfare with arms supplies) and speaks "the language of Jesus, rather than politics." The involvement of other Christian leaders in military-political issues helps the pope a lot in this regard. Therefore, such a strategy of the head of the Vatican looks very successful and justified amid the crisis in which the Catholic Church has been sinking even more lately.
As for the pope's visit to Ukraine, it can be assumed that it will take place as soon as there is the end of the war on the horizon, so that it will be possible to declare the "significant" role of the Vatican in establishing peace.