Ukraine War, May 3, 2022 (II): Pope Francis’ confused comments on Russian invasion of Ukraine

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, on The Trenchant Observer web site, and you will see a list in chronological order.


1) Editorial, “Pope Francis Blames NATO; The Catholic leader can’t seem to condemn Russia’s invasion, Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2022 (4:49 pm ET);

2) Luciano Fontana,”Pope Francis: “I am ready to meet Putin in Moscow”; In an exclusive interview, Pope Francis says he is still waiting for an answer from Russia’s president, and fears he cannot, does not want t make this meeting at this time. He also says Russian Orthodoz Patriacrch Kirill cannot become Putin’s altar boy,” Corriere della Sera, (English version, no date). The otiginal version in Italian is found here;

4) Lucas Wiegelmann, “Was Franziskus zur Ukraine sagt, hätte nicht mal Alice Schwarzer unterschrieben, den 5. Mai 2022 (18:32 Uhr).


5) Cécile Chambraud, “Les ambiguïtés du pape François sur la guerre en Ukraine; Le chef de l’Eglise catholique appelle avant tout à l’arrêt des combats, sans désigner clairement la Russie comme l’agresseur. Il a même critiqué le rôle de l’OTAN,” Le Monde, le 12 mai 2022 (à 13h30);


6) Cécile Chambraud, “Pope Francis’s ambiguities about the war in Ukraine; The head of the Catholic Church called for an end to the fighting in Ukraine, without clearly naming Russia as the aggressor. He has even criticized the role of NATO. Le Monde in English, May 13, 2022 (10h12, updated at 10h13).


Pope Francis’ confused comments on Russian invasion of Ukraine

The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal calls attention to recent statements by Pope Francis that seem to lay part of the blame for the Russian invasion of Ukraine on NATO, and which fail to strongly condemn the Russian invasion and war crimes and crimes against humanity it is committing in Ukraine. They write, quoting an interview in an Italian newspaper,

Francis suggested that perhaps “NATO barking at Russia’s gate” had caused Mr. Putin to invade his neighbor, which doesn’t belong to the alliance. “I have no way of telling whether his rage has been provoked,” he continued. “but I suspect it was maybe facilitated by the West’s attitude.” Asked whether it was right to send weapons so Ukraine can defend itself, the Pope said, “I don’t know,” before criticizing the global arms trade.

Since the invasion, Francis has called for an end to the war and criticized the violence, but he hasn’t directly called out Russia for starting the conflict. Now that he finally speaks, he blames NATO for accepting members that want to avoid being invaded by Russia. What a terrible moral signal to send to dictators.

Viewed in the most charitable light, Pope Francis’ statements suggest he is quite confused, saying things that lend themselves to misinterpretation regarding responsibility for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

His unfortunate statements underline the fact that, given his position as head of the Catholic Church, he cannot simply make statements reflecting his personal views as if he were still a priest and bishop in Argentina, instead of setting forth the considered views of the Catholic Church.

In Pope Francis’ defense, it appears from reading the entire interview in the Corriere della Sera, above, that the Pope was just following a chain of thoughts, thinking out loud, and not expressing considered opinions.

For example, the full context of the quote about NATO maybe being responsible is provided in the following passage of the interview:

Pope Bergoglio’s main concern is that Putin won’t stop any time soon. He tries to consider the roots of his behaviour, the reasons that are pushing him to engage in such a brutal conflict. Maybe it was «Nato barking at Russia’s gate» that compelled Putin to unleash the invasion of Ukraine. «I have no way of telling whether his rage has been provoked»” Bergoglio wonders, «but I suspect it was maybe facilitated by the West’s attitude».

He was speaking in an interview with a journalist, to be sure. But he was suffering from knee pain so severe he couldn’t get up from his sitting position to greet the reporter. He was going to get a knee injection later in the day.

Perhaps on some kind of pain medication, Pope Francis’ didn’t sound particularly sharp.

Rather, he sounded like an 85 year-old man who was speaking pretty much off the top of his head. He seemed distressed by the war, but didn’t come across as someone who had worked through the hardest issues to come to firm conclusions, e.g., whether it was right to supply weapons to the Ukrainians to defend themselves against the invading Russians. His interviewer quotes him as follows,

“I can’t answer that question, I live too far away, I don’t know if it is the right thing to supply (weapons to) the Ukrainian fighters,” he tries to reason it out. “What seems indisputable is that in that country both sides are trying out new weapons…”

Nor did he seem to have a firm grasp of the facts relating to what was happening on the ground in Ukraine. For example, the interviewer quotes Pope Francis as follows:

When I met Orban, he told me that the Russians have a precise plan, and that the war will end on May 9th. I sure hope so, that would explain the speed of the military operations in the last few days. Now the Russians have taken not just the Donbass region, but Crimea, Odessa, the ports on the Black Sea, everything. I have a bad feeling about it all, I’ll admit, I’m very pessimistic. However, it is our duty to do all we can to stop the war

While it would be welcome news if Putin ended the war on May 9 as the Pope recalls Viktor Orbán telling him, he certainly has no grasp of what is going on in the South. Russia has not taken Odessa (Odesa in Ukrainian), for example.

The Pope’s statements and the Wall Street Journal Editorial point to the need for the zpope to think through some fundamental issues, and to state his and the Church’s position on some basic questions that go to the heart of what Christianity is all about.

Pope Francis would do well to recall that it was international law and in particular the international law of human rights that protected priests perceived by the military in Argentina to be leftists or communists from torture and “disappearance”. He might well recall that it was Archbishop Paulo Evaristo Arns of Brazil, Archbishop Arnulfo Romero in El Salvador, and the Catholic leaders in Chile that led the movement against authoritarian rule in Latin America, paving the way for a return to democracy.

The issue facing Pope Francis and the Catholic Church is quite clear really.

Does the Church support the United Nations Charter, or not?

There are a number of other questions subsumed in this big one.

Does the Catholic Church support the prohibition of the illegal use of force enshrined in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter?

Does the Church support the use of force in exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense against an armed attack such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter?

Does the Catholic Church support the defense of fundamental human rights and basic principles of international humanitarian law against the Russian onslaught of atrocities committed by Russian armed forces?

Now is no time for equivocation by the Vatican. Pope Pius XII has been criticized for not doing enough to oppose Adolf Hitler and German fascism, which is the subject of fierce debate.

Yet whatever the merits of that debate, Pope Francis is not living in a Vatican surrounded by the Italian fascist state of Benito Mussolini, Hitler’s ally, and has no excuse for not speaking clearly.

Moral clarity is required here.

The Trenchant Observer