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Does the Pope think Putin is in the wrong? Of course not.

Hey, I really think it's asking too much of the Pontiff to throw a negative glance at Vlad. Honestly, to honk of the leader of the Catholic Church you need to be really really really bad. I'm not even sure he'd say a negative word about Lord Voldemort.


And honestly, I've been working very hard lately at being more "positive". I need a role model.


Pope Francis Laments War in Ukraine Without Taking Sides

Pontiff decries ‘vicious war’ without explicitly blaming Russia or Vladimir Putin


By Francis X. Rocca, WSJ

Mar. 25, 2022 12:48 pm ET


ROME—Pope Francis celebrated a liturgy for peace between Russia and Ukraine, lamenting the “vicious war that has overtaken so many people and caused suffering to all...this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world,” in his most high-profile gesture yet to deplore the conflict while maintaining his neutrality.


The ceremony on Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica, which the pope asked Catholic bishops and their flocks around the world to join in through prayer, was marked by tension between his sympathy for what he called “our defenseless Ukrainian brothers and sisters” under bombardment and his continuing refusal to explicitly name Russia as the aggressor.


Pope Francis’ neutrality has its roots in Vatican tradition but also reflects his particular agenda, which includes better relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and a wariness of identifying the Vatican with U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. and its European allies are supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion with military aid and economic sanctions on Russia.


Pope Francis refrained earlier in the war from referring to an invasion of Ukraine, speaking in terms that could as easily have described a civil war, while his top deputy echoed the Kremlin’s language by calling the invasion “the start of Russian military operations on Ukrainian territory.”


The pope has since made clear his horror at the “violent aggression against Ukraine,” calling it “a senseless massacre” and “this repugnant war.” But his only explicit references to Russia’s military have been to sympathize with “so many soldiers who are sent to the front, very young, Russian soldiers, poor things,” along with their Ukrainian counterparts.


He has also raised doubts about whether he supports Ukraine’s right to defend itself, saying on two occasions last week that there is no such thing as a “just war,” thus seeming to dismiss traditional Catholic teaching that allows for the legitimate use of military force for defense.


On Thursday, in a speech citing Mahatma Gandhi, the famed exponent of nonviolent resistance, the pope denounced as madness the decision by some countries to raise their military spending above 2% of gross domestic product, an apparent reference to North Atlantic Treaty Organization members including Germany who have announced higher military spending in response to the war in Ukraine. “The true response is not more weapons, more sanctions,” the pope said.


Vatican neutrality is a tradition dating to the 19th century and the loss of the papal states in central Italy, when the Holy See ceased to be a territorial power that formed alliances and fought wars with other countries, said Giovanni Maria Vian, a professor of patristic philology at the University of Rome La Sapienza and a former editor in chief of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.


The papacy’s neutrality became especially controversial following World War II. Scholars continue to debate whether the wartime Pope Pius XII could have done more to protect European Jewry from the Nazis.


Pope Francis’ reluctance to criticize Russia also reflects his eagerness for good relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely allied with the Kremlin and whose leader Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has defended the invasion.


Pope Francis met with Patriarch Kirill in 2016, the first meeting in history between the heads of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. But in the view of some, that achievement came at a steep price to the pope. The leader of Ukraine’s Catholic minority, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said that many of his flock felt betrayed by a joint declaration signed by the pope and the patriarch, which described the Russian-fomented separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine in a way that didn’t suggest aggression by Moscow. Pope Francis responded that the archbishop was his friend and free to criticize the document.


Friday’s liturgy included an “act of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” in accordance with an instruction that Catholics believe Portuguese shepherd children received in a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1917. According to one of the visionaries, the consecration specifically of Russia performed by the pope would usher in a period of world peace. Pope Francis modified the prescribed consecration to include Ukraine alongside Russia.


The Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a close adviser to Pope Francis, wrote on Twitter last week that this double consecration would express a “non-nationalistic vision of the Christian faith. Any consecration of one army against the other sounds spurious and blasphemous.”


Pope Francis’ dealings with the Kremlin have followed the pattern of his dealings with the patriarch of Moscow. He has received Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican three times, greeting him with visible warmth even on one occasion when he arrived an hour late. The pope didn’t criticize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.


Nor did he explicitly criticize Russia’s military intervention in Syria from 2015, which included heavy airstrikes on Syrian cities in which thousands of civilians died.


By contrast, when President Obama in 2013 was considering airstrikes to punish the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons, Pope Francis held a four-hour prayer vigil for peace in St. Peter’s Square with a congregation of 100,000.


“He wants to distance himself from being aligned too closely with a U.S.-led NATO,” said Robert Mickens, editor in chief of La Croix International, a Catholic publication, regarding the pope’s current stance on Ukraine.


According to Mr. Vian, Pope Francis wants to avoid being characterized as the “chaplain of the West,” as Pope Pius XII was called for his vocal anticommunism in the early years of the Cold War.


Writing in the Vatican newspaper last week, Andrea Tornielli, a senior official in the Vatican’s communications office, said that it was Pope Francis’ refusal to play that role that had earned him criticism for supposed softness on Russia.


Pope Francis acted in the spirit of his predecessors in declining to explicitly denounce Russia, Mr. Tornielli wrote, “not out of cowardice or an excess of diplomatic prudence, but so as not to close the door, to always leave a window open to the possibility of stopping evil and saving human lives.”


Write to Francis X. Rocca at francis.rocca@wsj.com



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