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The Catholic Church’s stance is clear that it is against War. The view is aligned with the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane when a disciple used a sword to confront those arresting him. Jesus told the man to put the weapon away, adding those who live by the sword die by the sword, implying reconciliation (Martin, 2020). St. Francis of Assisi adopted the same attitude in the 13th-century crusades when he accompanied Western Europe armies to Egypt, where he spoke peacefully with Muslim leaders, and they had not only an interreligious but also a peace dialogue (Martin, 2020). Pope Paul VI resonated with the Catholic Church’s position at the height of the Cold War in 1965 when he stated that never again War but peace must guide the destiny of the nations of all humankind. Likewise, Pope John Paul II, who lived under Nazi and Communist regimes in Poland during his papacy, expressed similar views in 2003 when Iraq was being invaded and said no to War because, at all times, it is a defeat for humanity (Martin, 2020). The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has prompted Pope Francis and the Vatican to issue conflicting statements to preserve the Pope’s and Vatican’s neutrality. The strategy is vital in protecting Catholics in Ukraine and Russia and maintaining the Church’s historical stance of open dialogue in global conflicts to assist in mediating for peace. The paper establishes that the Pope’s and Vatican’s position on Russia and Ukraine war have been pro-Ukrainian and presents a critique of the Vatican’s position.
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Pope’s and Vatican’s Pro-Ukraine position on the War
Like world leaders and other people, the Pope and Vatican have taken positions in the Russia and Ukraine War. In several of their comments, the Pope and Vatican seem pro-Ukraine. Way back in March 2022 and a month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Pope Francis denounced the “perverse abuse of power” exhibited by Russia and urged aid to Ukrainians who, in his view, had their “identity, history and tradition” attacked and were rightfully “defending their land” (The Guardian, 2022). While discussing the issue, Pope Francis has repeatedly and blatantly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, describing it as “abominable,” “macabre,” a “massacre,” and “unacceptable armed aggression” (Maringa, 2022). In a conversation held in June 2022 with a group of European Jesuit news editors, the Pope decried the brutality and ferocity meted out on Ukrainians by the Russian troops and specifically described the involvement of mercenaries as monstrous (Maringa, 2022). The Pope also emphasized he was not pro-Putin.
In marking the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis termed the War in Ukraine a direct intervention of a ‘superpower’ to impose its own will, which violated the principle of a people’s self-determination (Maringa, 2022). The pontiff has also noted that Russia had miscalculated the War, thinking it would take a week. Still, the Ukrainian people, with a history of struggle to survive, remain brave and hard to overwhelm. Further, the Pope has condemned the religious justification of the Russian War in Ukraine by a Russian Orthodox Church leader, Patriarch Kirill warning the leader not to become ” Putin’s altar boy” (Maringa, 2022). The Pope intended to have a direct meeting with the Russian Orthodox Church leader at an interreligious event in Kazakhstan in September 2022, but it was canceled by the latter.
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Referring to the killing by a car bomb of Daria Dugina, a daughter of a right-wing Russian political theorist and ultranationalist, both fierce supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Pope commented, “So many innocents… are paying for madness” (Agence France-Presse, 2022). The comments hinting at Daria Dugina’s innocence attracted criticism from Ukraine, prompting immediate clarification by the Vatican on Pope’s position that his words were not political but rather a voice in defense of human life and its associated values (Agence France-Presse, 2022). The Vatican stressed that the Russian Federation had begun the War, and Pope Francis had clearly and unequivocally condemned it as morally unjust, senseless, unacceptable, barbaric, sacrilegious, and repugnant. Nevertheless, Povoledo (2022) observes that, for the first time, the Vatican labeled Russia the aggressor in the War.
Equally, Pope Francis has urged neighboring European nations to wholeheartedly, generously, and continuously welcome and assist the millions of Ukraine refugees fleeing into other nations (Watkins, 2022). Most refugees are women and children separated from husbands and fathers and without work. The pontiff has visited some injured Ukrainian children receiving treatment at Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital after fleeing the War (Watkins, 2022). The pontiff has particularly thanked the many Catholic Bishops and priests who remained in Ukraine and supported the Church congregants and citizens. Moreover, the Pope invited all Christians to join him on Friday, 25 March 2022, to make a solemn act of consecration, especially of Russia and Ukraine’s humanity, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Watkins, 2022). The pontiff said the orphans in Ukraine and Russia were part of the “innocents” victimized by the “insanity of war” (Demilio, 2022). In a show of solidarity and to identify with Ukraine’s predicament, the 85-year-old pontiff wants to visit Ukraine to promote the cause of peace (Demilio, 2022). Despite this, Pope’s mobility problems have prevented him from making the trip.
Whereas the Pope and Vatican appear to be more pro-Ukraine, it is also evident that the papacy failed to explicitly name and condemn Russia and Putin as the instigators of the War in Ukraine. The pontiff has been cautious to remain neutral on the issue for the sake of Catholics in Ukraine and Russia while being keen to promote ecumenical relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the pontiff and Vatican conflicting comments and possible mistrust by both camps make it difficult for the papacy to be an authority in negotiation for a ceasefire. Besides, the pontiff’s comments that NATO and the West’s military engagements with Ukraine provoked invasion by President Putin is no justification for the murders and atrocities committed on innocent civilians by the Russian troops.
Pope’s and Vatican’s pro- Russia position on the War
In their opinion on the War, the Pope and Vatican have also appeared to indicate Russia had no option but to invade Ukraine, indirectly supporting the action. For instance, in a conversation with a group of European Jesuit news editors, Pope Francis said months before the War, an undisclosed head of state had warned him that NATO was “barking at the gates of Russia,” something Russia would not tolerate and could result to War (Maringa, 2022). The leader described Russians as imperial and could not have any foreign power near them (Giuffrida, 2022). While cautioning against oversimplifying the conflict, the Pope further told the Jesuit journalists that Russia’s War on Ukraine was “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented” (Maringa, 2022). In Pope’s opinion, as people focus on Russian troops’ ferocity, violence, and cruelty, they should not forget the actual problems to be solved. He hinted at the real problems as the interest in testing and selling weapons and possible provocation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rage against the West’s attitude. The Pope described the situation as that of world war, global interests, arms sales, and geopolitical appropriation, which was martyring heroic Ukrainian people.
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After the Pope’s comment on the death of Daria Dugina, a Russian ultranationalist’s daughter, an agitated Ukraine viewed the Pope as pro-Russian. Seemingly, the pontiff implied Daria Dugina was innocent and criticizing the statement, the Ukraine ambassador to the Vatican said the “aggressor and victim” should not have been categorized together, while in Ukraine, the foreign ministry summoned Vatican’s envoy to Kyiv to explain pontiff’s comment (Agence France-Presse, 2022). The Vatican clarified that the pontiff’s words had no political position but were in defense of human life and its values.
The Pope has repeatedly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine as morally unjust, senseless, unacceptable, barbaric, sacrilegious, and repugnant. Further, he denounced Russia’s perverse abuse of power, describing the invasion as direct intervention of a superpower to impose its own will on Ukrainians’ identity, history, and tradition. Hence, they have a right to defend their land. The pontiff has called for relentless accommodation, material support, and prayers for Ukrainian refugees of War, most of whom are women and children. Additionally, he has visited those under treatment in hospital, and were it not for mobility issues; he would go to Ukraine to advance peace. In arguing for Russia, the Pope believes NATO and the West’s engagements militarily with Ukraine as well as the desire to test and sell weapons, provoked President Putin’s wrath. Speaking against the death of Daria Dugina, whose father is a strong supporter of the invasion of Ukraine, the pontiff argues it is in defense of human life and its values. Nevertheless, the Vatican promptly defends the Pope whenever his comments stir criticism. Hence, based on the analysis of opinions on the Russia and Ukraine war, it is evident that the pontiff’s and Vatican’s positions have been more pro-Ukrainian.
- Agence France-Presse. (2022).Vatican Seeks to Clarify Pope’s Stance on Ukraine. https://www.voanews.com/a/vatican-seeks-to-clarify-pope-s-stance-on-ukraine-/6722503.html
- Demilio, F. (2022). Vatican: Pope clearly condemns Russia’s ‘repugnant’ War. ABC News Network, 47 West 66th Street, New York, NY 10023. U.S A https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/vatican-pope-condemns-russias-repugnant-war-89058199
- Giuffrida, A. (2022). Pope Francis says Ukraine war was perhaps somehow provoked. The Guardian News and Media Limited, 61 Broadway, New York, NY 10006. U.S.A https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/14/pope-francis-ukraine-war-provoked-russian-troops
- Martin, S. J., (2020).The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear: We are against War. America Magazine. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/01/13/teaching-catholic-church-clear-we-are-against-war
- Maringa, A. (2022). Pope Francis says Ukraine war “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented”. CBS News Interactive Inc. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/pope-francis-ukraine-war-russia-putin-perhaps- somehow-provoked-not-prevented/
- Povoledo, E. (2022). The Vatican, for the first time, calls Russia the aggressor in the War. The New York Times Company https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/30/world/europe/vatican-pope-russia-invasion.html
- The Guardian. (2022). Pope Francis denounces ‘abuse of power’ in Russia-Ukraine war. The Guardian News and Media Limited, 61 Broadway, New York, NY 10006. U.S.A https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/18/pope-francis-denounces-abuse-of-power-in-russia-ukraine-war
- Watkins, D. (2022). Pope: ‘War of aggression against Ukraine is inhuman and sacrilegious’. Vatican News, Dicasterium pro Communication. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2022-03/pope-francis-ukraine-war-inhuman-sacrilegious.html