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Pope defends human life, not Russian aggression, Vatican insists

01 September 2022


A woman walks past a Baptist church destroyed by shelling in Kostyantynivka, in the Donbas region of Ukraine, earlier this week

A woman walks past a Baptist church destroyed by shelling in Kostyantynivka, in the Donbas region of Ukraine, earlier this week

THE Vatican has defended the Pope from accusations of a pro-Russian stance over Ukraine.

A Vatican statement said on Tuesday: “There are numerous interventions by the Holy Father Francis and his collaborators — for the most part, they are aimed at inviting pastors and the faithful to prayer, and all people of good will to solidarity and efforts to rebuild peace. . .

“As for the large-scale war in Ukraine, initiated by the Russian Federation, the interventions by the Holy Father Francis are clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant, and sacrilegious.”

The statement, which was welcomed by Ukrainian officials, said that “public discussions” had recently arisen on the “political significance” of the Pope’s remarks. It continued, however, that everything said by the Pope should be “read as a voice raised in defence of human life and the values connected to it, and not as political stances”.

Long-running complaints about the Pope’s view of the war increased after he told an audience in St Peter’s Square on 24 August that “many Ukrainian children and Russian children” had been orphaned, and described the Russian far-right political commentator Darya Dugina, who was killed by a Moscow car bomb, as one of “so many innocents who are paying for madness, the madness of all sides”.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, was called in last week by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, who expressed “deep disappointment” at the Pope’s “unjust remarks”, and insisted that his country had had “nothing to do” with Dugina’s death.

The Ukrainian World Congress said that it had urged Pope Francis earlier in the war to support the “public designation of Russia as an aggressor state”, and called on him to offer “clear and unambiguous support” for Ukraine’s “fight to defend her freedom and independence”.

The New York-based Congress said of Pope Francis on Monday: “We are concerned over his public statements regarding Russian aggression, which unjustly equate the aggressor with its victim. We hope the Church, as a spiritual and moral reference point, will clearly distinguish between the losses of those who came to kill and the losses of Ukrainians who die defending their families and land. This will help the world clearly understand the difference between good and evil.” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has pulled out of a projected meeting with the Pope, referring to a lack of preparation (News, 19 August).

Preaching on Sunday in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, in Moscow, Patriarch Kirill said that the Orthodox faith was helping “those on the battlefield who need to go on the attack”, and that the Virgin Mary would “extend her sovereign protection” over Russia, “safeguarding it from every enemy and adversary” as it headed towards a “glorious future”.

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, however, accused Russia on Monday of both using internationally banned cluster bombs against targets in central Kharkiv and heavily bombing and shelling at least eight towns on the 1500-mile front line.

In a message issued on Monday, the head of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that Russia was “unable to build its ideology” without appropriating Ukrainian history, culture, and spiritual identity.

In a birthday message on Tuesday, Patriarch Kirill praised President Lukashenko of Belarus — whose disputed 2020 re-election, after 26 years in power, was met by European Union and Western government sanctions — for supporting the work of Orthodox clergy and “all healthy forces of society”.

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian government approved a list of sanctions against Patriarch Kirill and seven other Russian Orthodox leaders, including a permanent ban from entering Ukraine.

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