What Pope Francis is risking with his interview about Ukraine

Pope Francis received massive criticism with an interview on the Ukraine conflict. Our guest author believes that the supreme sovereign of the Vatican City cannot act so carelessly.

Pope Francis has angered Ukraine and its allies by saying that Kiev should raise “the white flag.” The pontiff said in a recorded interview broadcast last Saturday that negotiations should never be a sign of weakness and should be conducted on Kiev's behalf to avoid more deaths. Although the Pope included the reference to the “white flag” in the interviewer's question and the Vatican asserted after the broadcast of the interview that the Pope meant a ceasefire between Moscow and Kiev with subsequent negotiations, the wording that Francis chose appears to be the same , but very close to what the Kremlin demands and how the Russian leadership speaks.

In the past, too, the Pope's position had come dangerously close to that of the Russian dictatorship. So it took a few months into the war of aggression before the pontiff felt compelled to name Putin as the aggressor, which he in fact is. The Vatican's reluctance to criticize Russia can perhaps be explained by recent church history: for several decades, the bishops of Rome have been trying to become closer to Russian Orthodoxy, from which they have been separated since the great religious schism almost a thousand years ago. The line of attempted rapprochement over the past sixty years extends from John XXIII to John Paul II to Francis.

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About the author

Dr. Alexandr Görlach is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The Catholic theologian studied, among other things, at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

But the popes have so far hit the ground running. Decried as an agent of the West, the Russian state church, which owes its new position solely to Vladimir Putin after the end of the atheist Soviet Union, demonizes its Christian brothers and sisters in Europe and the United States. The head of the Russian Church is even said to have spied for the regime together with Putin on behalf of the Soviet secret service, so they know each other and pursue common, rather earthly goals.

Pope buries church's mediation option

All of this should be known to the powerful Secretariat of State, the Vatican's Foreign Ministry. The Holy See, as the Vatican is called in international law, maintains good relations with many parts of the world, including non-Christian ones, and is therefore often called upon as a mediator in crises. In the current case, the war that Russia has started against Ukraine, such a mediator role is unlikely for ideological reasons. The Pope would have completely destroyed such an option with his statement because his choice of words suggests taking sides.

With his ill-considered statement, the Pope is in line with Donald Trump, 77, or Joe Biden, 81. Compared to Francis, 87, they are still real young spurs, but they also make questionable or ill-considered comments if they do not Speak script. Donald Trump recently confused Biden with Barack Obama and Joe Biden fabricated stories about a telephone conversation with Chancellor Helmut Kohl (died 2017).

When it comes to war and peace, US President Biden has deviated from his script several times and has promised US defense assistance to the democratic island nation of Taiwan should the totalitarian People's Republic under its leader Xi Jinping actually carry out its threat and attack the island. The White House then sought to place Biden's statement in a context that was intended to prevent China from striking Taiwan. So far this has been successful.

When grandpas make world politics

So it seems that such ill-considered statements with far-reaching consequences arise when grandpas make world politics. It is not for nothing that over 70 percent of US citizens are not very happy about the rematch between the two old men Trump and Biden. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has fewer problems with old men, not to say that it is part of its brand essence.

When he gives a sermon, the Pope may perhaps personify the image of the good Lord among the faithful as a gentle grandfather. But as the supreme sovereign of the Vatican City, which has a reputation as a diplomatic bastion to lose, he cannot behave as carelessly as he did in this interview. The harsh criticism that the Pope is now receiving proves this. The pontiff would have preferred to have taken advice from the people: speech is silver, silence is gold.