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A Dependable Ally, Pope Francis Met with Putin for the Third Time

No other head of state has been granted a private meeting with the pope more often. And Putin kept the pope waiting each time – 50 minutes late for their first meeting, more than an hour late for their second and an hour late on Thursday.

Putin’s July 4th visit to the Vatican came “amid signs of closer ties between the Kremlin and the Roman Catholic Church,” reported Bloomberg and “at a time when Russia is playing a more ambitious and divisive role around the world” noted the Washington Post.

Afterwards, Putin thanked Pope Francis for “a very substantive discussion.” The subjects were Venezuela, Ukraine and Syria according to the Vatican.

Syria

Pope Francis positioned himself as Vladimir Putin’s ally early on. Although the massacre had been ongoing since his election in March 2013, the pontiff held a peace rally for Syria only after Pres. Obama proposed a limited air strike to deter the further use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Putin had said that it was “utter nonsense” that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons and he “warned the U.S. against launching military action in Syria, stating that Russia has ‘plans’ on how it would react if such a scenario unfolded,” reported The Guardian.

Pope Francis wrote a letter to Putin, host of the G-20 summit held on the eve of his Sept. 7, 2013, rally “urging world leaders to oppose a military intervention in Syria.” During his rally, the pope spoke out against an attack in Syria, Elizabeth Dias noted.

Moscow was pleased after Francis opposed a proposed U.S.-led military intervention in Syria, a key Russian ally,” according to ReutersPutin credited Pope Francis “with being decisive in halting the momentum with the G-20 towards supporting the initiative,” reported Ines San Martin.

Pope Francis had “quite a cordial and constructive meeting,” with Putin in November 2013 after which the Russian president continued to support al-Assad’s “extermination” of his civilian population

Papal diplomacy in Syria has helped Russia and Assad” according to Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, a Senior Fellow at Cardus, Canada’s leading Christian think tank. “Putin certainly regarded [Obama’s failure in Syria] as a major victory. He immediately began to flex Moscow’s muscles in Ukraine,” wrote de Souza.

Ukraine

In March 2014, “Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in an illegal move that violated the territorial integrity of the former Soviet republic and sparked a war,” wrote Alice Popovici for history.com.

“NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove said Russian military equipment and Russian combat troops have been seen entering Ukraine in columns over several days” in November 2014.

On Feb. 4, 2015, “Pope Francis prayed that ‘this horrible fratricidal violence will cease as soon as possible.’ Stunned that the pope viewed the conflict as a civil war, Ukrainian Catholic bishops went to Rome to tell Pope Francis the truth about the war in their country after complaints by some Ukrainians that the Holy See was being influenced by Russian propaganda,” reported Laura Ieraci.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) is the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches that are Byzantine in liturgy and organization but in full communion with Rome. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the UGCC, “said the country was not in a civil war but facing ‘the direct aggression of our neighbor’ …. In addition to the fighting, he said the country’s pastors are concerned about the more than 2 million refugees, among them 140,000 children. He said more than 6,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed to date,” Ieraci wrote.

In response, Pope Francis told the UGCC bishops “to stay out of politics.”

“Just a day after being publicly scolded by the world’s industrial powers, the G7 — including a particularly strong rebuke from U.S. President Barack Obama — Putin was shoulder to shoulder with the spiritual leader of 1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide,” reported Matthew Chance about Pope Francis’s second meeting with Putin on June 10, 2015. “There aren’t many world leaders who could annex one part of a neighboring country while backing a bloody rebellion in another part, and still avoid strong criticism from, arguably, the world’s most influential religious figure,” noted Chance.

Ahead of the Putin meeting, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, had urged the pontiff to “say more about concerns on territorial integrity” in Ukraine. But Pope Francis said only that “it is necessary to make a great effort to forge peace,” Chance wrote.

Meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill

A meeting between Pope Francis and Kirill took place on Feb. 12, 2016, in Havana. The meeting “could not happen without a green light from Putin and he may be one the beneficiaries …. Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), making Friday’s two-hour private meeting not just a religious event but politically charged as well, especially when Russia is at odds with the West over Ukraine and Syria …. ‘Putin clearly sees the value of his relationship with the ROC and the ROC’s relationship with the pope,’ said a diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity,” Reuters reported.

In fact, “in the Era of Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church has resumed much of its former imperial role as a servant of the State. And in a time of renewed Russian confidence and aggression abroad, the Russian Orthodox Church has become an important instrument of state power,” explained Katie Kelaidis

After the meeting, The Economist asked: “Did the pope just kiss Putin’s ring? Russia wants its people to believe that Western republics are not as hostile as their leaders. Pope Francis just helped.” The meeting with Kirill was “a diplomatic victory” for Putin.

Francis made clear in his interview before the meeting that on certain issues he agrees with Mr. Putin and disagrees with America and its allies ….

The meeting with Francis has helped to underscore Russia’s renewed standing as a global power ….

The joint declaration issued after the meeting hewed close to the Kremlin’s positions on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine ….

The joint declaration deplores “hostility” in Ukraine, but omits any mention of Russia’s role, casting it as an internal struggle ….

Miroslav Marinovich, vice-rector of the Catholic University in Lviv, said that the sections relating to Ukraine were “obviously written in the Kremlin.” Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk went even further. The members of his church, he said, felt “betrayed by the Vatican.”

“Critics also worry that the Vatican may be lending credibility to Putin’s claim to be the great defender of persecuted Christians, when his policy is more about realpolitik than religious conviction,” reported John L. Allen, Jr. “Russian operation in Syria is our salvation,” Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, the vicar of Aleppo, stated after the pope’s meeting with Kirill. Khazen was appointed by Pope Francis in 2013. “Russia makes a very positive impact by stimulating the negotiations process, and promotes dialogue between various Syrian groups,” Khazen said

The joint declaration also included a denouncement of same-sex marriage. Putin “also takes the position held by Pope Francis that ‘tolerance of gender choice results from a Western imperial ideology,’” observed Peter Gardella.

As “a direct result” of the Havana meeting, “the Foreign Office of the Moscow Patriarchate held an international seminar at the end of January [2017] during which the Orthodox and Catholic Churches jointly addressed the issue of abortion.”

Expanded Diplomatic Relations

The day after the Havana meeting, Slovenia-born Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic was appointed as the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva as well as the World Trade Organization. Jurkovic had been the papal ambassador to Russia since 2011. The “widespread saying among Vatican diplomats” is that “Geneva is where the UN headquarters’ decisions are prepared” and Jurkovic “knows very well the Russian world and its sensitivities,” noted Vatican reporter, Andrea Gagliarducci. Given Jurkovic’s experience, “his appointment aims to assist in the rapprochement between the Catholic Church and Moscow.”

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, “one of the most skilled and experienced Vatican diplomats” according to Gagliarducci, was appointed as Pope Francis’ ambassador to Russia  in May 2016 after serving as his ambassador to the United Nations.

Archbishop Antonio Mennini was made an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State in January 2017. Mennini had been the papal representative to Moscow from 2002 to 2010. (The Vatican and Russia established full diplomatic relations in 2009.)

Pope Francis said in April 2017 that Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion, foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox Church “has come many times to speak with me.”

The most powerful man in the Vatican after Pope Francis, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, made an “historic visit” to Moscow to meet with Putin at the end of August 2017 “with the aim of improving Holy See relations both with the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church,” stated Vatican reporter Edward Pentin.

In a February 2017 article titled “Trump and the Vatican, a relationship to be built,” Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli wrote that, in addition to anti-abortion policies, “there could be other possible agreements [between Trump] with the Holy See in the less exclusionary approach with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.” Pope Francis appointed Tornielli as editorial director of his Department of Communications in December 2018.

Ukraine Orthodox Church

The principle religion in Ukraine is Orthodox Christianity adhered to by  75-80 percent of the population; 56 percent of these identify with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate while 16 percent identify with Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. Ukrainian Greek Catholics are 8 percent. The Russian Orthodox Church, however, claims a canonical authority over the entire country.

In view of the Russian aggression, “the then Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko set about addressing the issue of the Orthodox split, partly to benefit from it politically. In April 2018, he sent a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul requesting an independent Church for Ukraine. The Kiev Patriarchate Church supported his request.”

“An independent Ukrainian Church undercuts Putin’s plans to expand his country’s power, including boosting Moscow as a so-called Third Rome that would become a center of the Orthodox faith,” noted Ilias Kouskouvelis, professor of International Relations at the University of Macedonia.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the foremost leader in the Eastern Christian Church also known among Orthodox patriarchs as “first among equals,” supported Poroshenko’s proposal.

By late 2018, 54 percent of Ukrainians supported the creation of a united Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent from Moscow. Only 19 percent opposed it.

As part of a May 2018 address to ROC delegates to the Vatican, Pope Francis told Ukraine’s Catholic leaders that they “must not interfere in the internal affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, nor in political matters. This is my stance. And those who meddle do not obey the Holy See.”

Bartholomew recognized the new independent and united Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Oct. 11, 2018. The ROC cut ties with Bartholomew.

Disregarding the pope’s prohibition, UGCC Archbishop Shevchuk stated his support for Bartholomew. “What Ukraine needs now is the affirmation of its rights,” he said on Oct. 13. “It’s not just the right to have an independent country but also to have its own interpretation of its religious past, present and future.”

On Oct. 19, Pope Francis met with ROC foreign minister Hilarion.

Following the Russian detention of Ukrainian navy vessels in the Kerch Strait and the “dramatic growth” of Russian units and tanks deployed along the Ukraine-Russian border in November 2018, UGCC bishops declared that this aggression shows “the threat to our independence and territorial integrity is not over …. It should be remembered that these acts have spiritual roots – the hearts of criminals and aggressors are possessed by evil forces.”

In January 2019, Bartholomew formally recognized the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church in an “elaborate ceremony” in Istanbul.

Putin responded, “Look how it (the new Church) is becoming dependent on Turkey, the Turkish patriarchate. I think Bartholomew’s main incentive and motive is to subdue this territory and then start profiting from it.”

Archbishop Shevchuk declared, “Let the internal movement toward consolidation and unity never be stopped.”

UGCC Bishop Borys Gudziak said the declaration of independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a repudiation of Russia’s “ecclesial colonialism” and said “bending” to Russia “has little to do with authentic reconciliation of Churches.”

“We are grateful” that “the Pope and the Holy See understand the whole situation and how difficult it is,” Vladimir Legoyda, professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations and chairman of ROC’s Department for Media Relations, said in May 2019.

Not everyone is grateful. Pope Francis has been accused of  “betraying” Ukrainians to appease Putin. He had also been accused of delivering a “papal punch in the gut” to Cuban dissidents by ignoring them during his visit with Raul and Fidel Castro and giving “a slap in the face to millions of Catholics and other faithful religious people in China who have suffered real persecution” because he made a secret agreement with Xi Jinping’s government over the selection of bishops.

Perhaps Pope Francis is following 1700 years of papal history. Ever since the Vatican aligned with the Roman Empire,  they have supported tyrants, despots and dictators.

 

(Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.)

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6 Responses

  1. Betty  

    Yes indeed…..red flags all over the place!

    Thanks for this excellent overview of the Vatican Roman Emperor

    Jack

    • And thank you, Jack, for all the faithful witnessing and inspiration you have given so many over the years.

  2. We need many more Betty Clermont’s, researching, witnessing and speaking out from every part of every land. Can we clone and re-distribute you? The last few sentences in “Francis, A Dependable Ally” dictates and pontificates it all: With too few and rare exceptions, the Roman Church (a la the Vatican in any age) will succumb to the darkest, most deceptive ways to grovel at the feet of the Grand Inquisitors (Putin) of our times. Hence, in their own Machiavellian words: THEIR earthly kingdom will survive into perpetuity. How? Self-deceiving dialogues and deals with the devil…my dear Wormwood!

    • Your encouragement is much appreciated! You have astutely stated the core issue at the heart of Vatican corruption and said it better than I. Well done!!

  3. Power, politics and money Betty…….Rome would sleep with the devil if need be.
    https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/world/update-pope-francis-warns-mafia-you-cant-take-it-with-you-869225.html

    • Thank you for your comment, Lynne. You are a genius at summing up the corruption is so few words!

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