How Pope Francis Can Fix His Broken Approach to Ukraine

At NCR, Thomas Bremer, Regina Elsner, Massimo Faggioli, and Kristina Stoeckl write:

If the Vatican wants to end the manipulation of its position by the Moscow Patriarchate, the people in charge should first of all recognize that this manipulation is happening and that the Vatican’s policy of balancing out leads to manipulations from the Russian Orthodox Church. Making statements that condemn the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine in greater clarity alone is not enough, because the Russian side will just ignore those, as it ignores the voices of its Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The only way to end the manipulation of the Vatican’s position by the Russian state and church media is to stop producing actions and statements that can be interpreted to feed Russian propaganda, and to make very clear and unambiguous statements.

Francis appears to interpret the war in Ukraine as outcome of a geopolitical conflict of interests between Russia and the United States. This vision of the conflict has important shortcomings. The idea that Russia is defending a legitimate national security interest in Ukraine and that NATO has allegedly violated this interest by its past expansions is flawed. Security for whom?

The Russia that claims to need security guarantees against NATO expansion has, in reality, failed to guarantee security, personal safety, dignity and peace for its own population and for neighboring countries for over two decades. Opposition politicians, critical journalists, civil society activists and normal citizens have been curtailed, repressed and even killed….

The episodes of repression of legitimate civil protest teaches us that the world and especially the Vatican must not accept claims to security interests as legitimate in the face of blatant violations of rights and personal safety of Russian citizens at the hands of their state. The Kremlin does not want security from NATO-expansion for the purpose of building peace, but for continuing to suppress its own population and destabilize its neighbors….

Francis still puts hopes in ecumenical dialogue with the current leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church. For the time being, important preconditions for this dialogue are missing: a commitment to peace, to the value of human life and to truthfulness.

The deliberate and strategic manipulation of the messages that come out of the Vatican by the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian media should ring an alarm. It is hard to imagine that real ecumenical dialogue and communion among the Orthodox Churches can be restored without signs of metanoia from the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church….

Francis must make clear where the Catholic Church stands on Ukraine.