Jhe has Saint Pope John Paul II, almost at the cost of his own life, spoken with great moral clarity and courage against Russian hegemonic aims. Pope Francis, unfortunately, lacks the clarity to speak in this way. Unfortunately, this means he is currently aiding and comforting an immoral abuser.
When one is both the spiritual vicar and guide of 1.2 billion people and also the head of a nation-state, one has to be much more careful than Francis was in his commentary on the war of Russia against Ukraine.
Unfortunately, much of what he has said on the subject so far has been both remarkably indiscriminate and an abomination of (mis)applied ethics. Because of his notoriety and his justly deserved status as a man of deep love, generally worthy of great respect, a few words are needed to correct the false impressions he has spread about the state of geopolitics.
The pope casually mused in an interview with an Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, on the share of responsibility that NATO had in the outbreak of the war. Here is the passage that upsets everyone:
Pope Bergoglio’s main concern is that Putin won’t stop anytime soon. He tries to examine the roots of his behavior, the reasons why he got into such a brutal conflict. Perhaps it was “NATO barking at Russia’s doors” that pushed Putin to launch the invasion of Ukraine. “I have no way of knowing if his rage was provoked,” Bergoglio wonders, “but I suspect it may have been facilitated by the attitude of the West.”[Francis’s] has always rejected the arms race and strongly condemned any escalation in the production of weapons, which could end up being used sooner or later on the battlefield, causing untold horror and suffering. “I can’t answer this question, I live too far away, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do to supply Ukrainian fighters,” he tries to reason. “What seems indisputable is that in this country both sides are trying new weapons. The Russians have just found out that tanks are useless and they could develop new weapons. Wars are also fought for this reason : test your arsenals. This is what happened during the Spanish Civil War, before the Second World War…”
This is completely false – and to the point that it is ambiguous, someone as important as Francis must refrain from being so careless in what he says.
NATO has never, not once, threatened aggressive action against Russia. In its seven decades of existence, it has made it clear that this is a purely defensive alliance. NATO has never barked at Russia, but it retains its power and vigilance because Russia barks so persistently and threatens the territorial integrity or the very existence of other sovereign nations, including Ukraine. , Georgia, Poland, Estonia and others. No one invaded Russia, and no one even thinks anyone was about to.
More specifically, with regard to Ukraine, the potential membership of this country in NATO was a dead letter before the Russian invasion. After stealing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then spending eight years funding and arming a rebellion in its eastern provinces, Russia pushed Ukraine into NATO. Yet even so, NATO did not include Ukraine in its membership (supposedly the cause of Russian anger), but simply invited it back in 2021 to begin a multi-step, multi-conditional process. which could one day lead to membership. It is not a provocation worthy of the Russian invasion which has now claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians.
Francis then offered what really seems in translation like a meandering, hard-to-follow vignette about Ukrainians. Many have interpreted this passage to mean that he thinks the war was started by someone other than Russia:
Syria, Yemen, Iraq. In Africa, a succession of conflicts one after the other. And in each of them, international interests are at stake. It is unthinkable that a free state could start a war against another free state. In Ukraine, the conflict was triggered by other actors. The Ukrainians cannot be blamed for having fought back in the Donbass. We are talking about ten years ago. It’s an old debate. Ukrainians are a proud people, that’s for sure. During the Stations of the Cross, we had two ladies, a Russian and a Ukrainian, who were asked to read the prayers together. Ukrainians are outraged. I spoke with Krajewski, who was there with me, and he told me: stop them, don’t let them read the prayer together. He was right, of course, we can’t really understand them. Then the two ladies remained silent. They are very sensitive, the Ukrainians, perhaps because they were defeated and belittled after the Second World War, and they paid a heavy price. So many lives lost, it’s a martyred people. But let’s not let our guard down, let’s keep an eye on what is happening or could happen in Transnistria next.
The pope said he had repeatedly tried to speak to Putin to urge the Russian war criminal to stop the “brutality”, but that Putin would not respond to his pleas. To quote the Daily Beast: “He also went to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See a few days after the invasion began to ‘express his concerns’ about what was happening.”
So, to get it straight, he tells Putin his concerns to refrain from brutality in unfortunate reaction to the dastardly Ukrainian-NATO-international conspiracies and threats. Or something.
And this follows the case where one of the very few envoys to the United Nations who made not joining a walkout in protest of Russia was the representative of the Holy See. The Vatican has also refused to condemn Russia’s use of nerve agents or support an investigation into Russian war crimes.
That’s not to say that Francis somehow supports Putin’s routine atrocities. No one believes it even for a moment. It is to say that the naivety and the credulity of this pope are far from the charts. In the way he has given a strangely disjointed voice to this naivete, Pope Francis is unwittingly serving not the cause of peace but that of evil Putin.