Pope Deplores the War in Ukraine but Not the Aggressor

ROME – The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, Pope Francis broke the ritual and went directly to the Russian Embassy in the Holy See to appeal for peace. The next day, he spoke to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, offering him moral support. Equal increasing warhe spoke out against “unacceptable armed aggression” and “barbaric child murder”.

“In the name of God,” he Sunday statement“I ask you: Stop this massacre!”

However, who does Francis ask?

The Pope has tried to avoid calling Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, or even Russia itself, an aggressor. And while he said that anyone who justifies violence with religious motives “insults the name” of God, he has avoided criticizing the main religious advocate and advocate of the war, Patriarch Kirill of the House. Russian Orthodox Church.

Unlike some European nationalists, who have suddenly left blank on Putin’s name To avoid reminding voters that they belong to the Russian leader’s fan club, Francis’ motivation stems from the fact that he straddles the line between global conscience, real-world diplomat and Religious leader responsible for the safety of his flock.

However, some of his own bishops and other supporters in the Roman Catholic Church wanted him to be named, and historians say the pope risks slipping from his high moral ground and into a murky space that was prominently occupied by Pope Pius XII, which the wartime pope had avoided. voiced criticism of Hitler and the Axis when Germany invaded Poland and ultimately caused the Massacre.

David I. Kertzer, a Vatican and Italian historian whose new book, “The Pope at War,” addresses the situation Pius XII faced, in many ways. , and Hitler, will be published in June.

Mr. Kertzer said that Pius XII also sought to strike a balance between internal interests and the need for a public voice as he resisted intense pressure to accuse Hitler. Instead, he used generic language about the horrors of war, something Mr. Kertzer said Francis is now echoing. Mr. Kertzer noted: “The position he is taking, or not taking, is not at risk.

A recent editorial in the National Catholic Reporter, often sympathetic to Pope Francis, urged the pope to call Putin out. “Whatever is happening behind the scenes, it’s time for Pope Francis to tell the truth about the murderous attack in Ukraine,” it said, adding, “It’s time to call things the way they are. This is Putin’s war and it is evil.”

The Vatican has come out to defend Pope Francis. A front-page editorial Monday in the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, noted, “Pope Francis has come under criticism from those who hope that in his public statements he will will clearly name Vladimir Putin and Russia, as if the words of the pastor of the universal church should reflect the sound of a television news program.”

The editorial written by Andrea Tornielli, an influential Vatican official, retains a sour tone. He argues that popes avoid naming invaders “not out of cowardice or exaggeration in diplomatic prudence, but rather in order not to close the door, to always open a loophole for the possibility of containment.” stop evil and save people’s lives.”

Indeed, popes have traditionally avoided choosing conflicting parties in order to better preserve the church’s chance of playing a constructive role in potential peace negotiations. There are Roman Catholics around the world, and going down from one side or the other in a potential global fire could put millions at risk. And criticizing Kirill, with whom Francis has spent years healing divisions between the Western and Eastern churches since 1054, could complicate an already horrible situation by adding dimension. of a religious war.

But the remarkable editorial went beyond what Francis has made public, alleging that the pope had sought to reveal “the hypocrisy of the Russian government” as he said on March 6, “This is not just a military operation but a war that sows death, destruction, and suffering.”

Some Catholic bishops in Ukraine and Poland have gone where the pope did not, blaming Patriarch Kirill, who called Putin’s leadership a “miracle of God” and justified the war is necessary to prevent the spread of the West’s “gay parade”. into Christian territory. Bishop Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk of Odessa-Simferopol in Ukraine said on Italian TV that he wanted stronger words from Francis about Kirill, who the bishop said, “bless Hitler and this new Russian fascism.”

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, wrote in a March 2 letter to Patriarch Kirill that Russia’s crimes will eventually be brought before an international tribunal. “However, even if someone tries to evade this human fairness,” he added, “a court of law cannot be avoided.”

On Wednesday, Francis and Kirill talking in a video conferencein which both expressed “hope that a just peace can be achieved as soon as possible,” according to a statement by the Moscow premier.

“That really rang a bell for me, who noted that during the Second World War, Pope Pius XII often added the warning that true peace requires justice,” Mr. Kertzer said. But, Mr. Kertzer said, it was “really the language that Hitler used and Mussolini used” as both dictators complained. argued that the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles had prevented real peace and then attempted to twist the Pope’s carefully neutral language as proof that he agreed with them.

Mr. Kertzer said that while Francis is different from Pius XII in many ways, “he too is, knowingly or not, at the moment portraying himself as the Russians used to support their position”.

The Vatican on Wednesday released its own statement on the conversation between Francis and Kirill. It noted that Francis said, “There is a time, even in our churches, when people talk about a jihad or a just war. We cannot speak this way today. A Christian awareness of the importance of peace has grown. ”

“Wars are always unjust,” he added, “because it is God’s people that pay the price.”

The role of religious leaders appears to be peripheral to the horrors on the ground in Ukraine. But religion, or Christian mysticism, is central to Putin’s nationalist project at home and abroad. For years, European populists and even some traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church viewed Mr. Putin, who met Pope Francis three times, as a true defender of Christianity because he embraced the Christian heritage and opposed liberal and progressive values.

Putin’s Catholic admirers sometimes compare the Russian leader to Pope John Paul II, who is often credited with helping to overthrow Soviet Communism, because both Putin and John Paul respect the Soviet Union. honor the East and the West. shared Christian heritage on secular values, whether communist or liberal.

Mr. Putin’s deeply nationalistic and religious vision of a “Russky Mir” or “Russian world”, is rooted more in myth than in real history but has been endorsed by Kirill. It is also central to Mr. Putin’s reasons for the war.

In the essay in July 2021″On the historical unification of Russians and Ukrainians”, Mr. Putin was referring to Prince Volodymyr, a Viking warlord of the Rus tribe in Kyiv and who converted to Christianity in 988. Saint Vladimir of Kyiv, as Russians call it, became a man meritorious service to Christian Russia. . Mr. Putin has argued that this age-old connection between Ukraine and Russia “largely determines our relationship today”, justifying the invasion.

Historians Timothy D. Snyder said that the connection between Kyiv and Moscow really arose in the late 1600s, when priests in Kyiv told their Moscow counterparts about the converted Volodymyr and their shared Rus heritage to improve connected with Russia, then went up.

More than 300 years later, amid the divisions of the Russian and Ukrainian churches, Pope Francis became the first pope to meet a cardinal of the Russian Orthodox Church. In that meeting with Kirill in Cuba in 2016The leaders signed a declaration of common goals, including preventing confrontation in Ukraine.

Now that Russia has unilaterally forced that confrontation, Pope Francis’ pontificate project of healing the wounds between the eastern and western churches appears to have come at a cost. do not openly blame Putin and Kirill for opening real wounds and real bloodshed. It is unclear how long such papal neutrality can last.

“Certainly,” Mr. Kertzer said of Francis, “he is under pressure.”

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