During my tenure as Someone Who Expresses Opinions on the Internet, I have defended Pope Francis an awful lot.
I have made fun of sedevacantists. I have called out tiresome internet traditionalists who make up conspiracy theories and show know respect for the Holy Father. I have been vehement in my defense of the Pope, whom I genuinely like most of the time, and I’m not a bit sorry.
I am not going to defend Pope Francis today. I’m going to call him out. And I don’t think my reason for doing so will please traditionalists, so I suppose my position is consistent.
Today at his Angelus Address, the Holy Father made remarks which could far too easily be construed as taking a “both sides” approach to the horrific war in Ukraine. I don’t know if that’s what he meant to do, but that’s how it sounds. And saying something that even sounds like such an approach is grossly irresponsible and offensive.
As most of you already know, for the past seven months, Ukraine has been embroiled in a terrible war which they did not provoke in any way except by existing. Despite the condemnation of the rest of the world and vehement protests by his own people, Russian president Vladimir Putin sent his troops to invade and conquer Ukraine in what he meant to be a 72-hour blitz, but thanks to the tenacity of the Ukrainian people and their courageous president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Russians have not been able to take the country. Over the past month they have been repulsed and driven back toward the Russian border in a series of battles that have won the admiration of the world. Every time the Russians have gained ground, they have committed atrocities. They have used thermobaric weapons. They have murdered civilians, including children. They have bombed hospitals. They have targeted nuclear facilities. And now Putin has taken it a step further, holding a sham referendum and announcing the annexation of regions of Ukraine he is swiftly losing– all while menacing the entire world with threats of nuclear war.
In most conflicts, I think it’s safe to say that both sides are partly at fault and a compromise can be reached. But this is patently not the case in the Ukraine war. Russia, or rather their increasingly deranged president, is entirely at fault. The Ukrainian people have been victims of an atrocity and they didn’t do anything except defend themselves. If they tried to compromise, they would be victims of further brutality, because they person they’re fighting against can’t be reasoned with. He wants to commit a genocide, whether the Ukrainians lie down and take it or keep fighting back. The only way to avoid the genocide is for Ukraine to keep fighting and the whole world to come to Ukraine’s aid. That approach is the anti-war option, in this case. Asking for a compromise is tantamount to telling the Jewish, Romany and other victims of the Nazi genocide in World War Two to compromise with the Third Reich.
In this context, the Holy Father addressed the war in Ukraine today. He dedicated his entire Angelus address to the topic, stating that “The course of the war in Ukraine has become so serious, devastating and threatening, as to cause great concern. Therefore, today I would like to devote the entire reflection before the Angelus to this. Indeed, this terrible and inconceivable wound to humanity, instead of healing, continues to shed even more blood, risking to spread further.”
Right off the bat, I question why he would make those remarks today, when the rest of the world is celebrating that Ukraine has decisively taken back a huge chunk of its own land and freed the inhabitants from their genocidal captors. That’s the beginning of a healing if ever there was one. You’d think the Pope would be celebrating that and merely condemning Putin’s threats. It sounds as though he’s upset about Ukraine’s recent victories. Maybe that’s not what he meant, but it’s how it looks. If he’s just upset over Putin’s stunt, he should say so.
Pope Francis continues in several paragraphs to condemn the genocide in Ukraine and the violations of international law, as well he might. He addresses Russia “first and foremost” and begs for an end to the conflict, which is just. But then he goes on: “On the other hand, saddened by the immense suffering of the Ukrainian people as a result of the aggression they have suffered, I address an equally confident appeal to the President of Ukraine to be open to serious proposals for peace. I urge all the protagonists of international life and the political leaders of nations to do everything possible to bring an end to the war, without allowing themselves to be drawn into dangerous escalations, and to promote and support initiatives for dialogue. Please let the younger generations breathe the salutary air of peace, not the polluted air of war, which is madness. After seven months of hostilities, let us use all diplomatic means, even those that may not have been used so far, to bring an end to this terrible tragedy. War in itself is an error and a horror!”
I don’t think Pope Francis meant to imply that Ukrainians share some fault for this war and ought to be willing to cede ground, but that is what’s implied. Telling the victims of such an atrocity to “be open to serious proposals for peace” assumes that serious proposals for peace have been made, which they haven’t, or that they will conceivably be made, which they won’t. The only “proposal for peace” that Putin might make is to let him keep the regions he’s annexed and butcher their inhabitants, which would not be a proposal for peace but a horrendous act of violence in itself. The Holy Father is being grossly irresponsible to suggest such a thing, even by accident.
Calling on other states to not allow themselves to be drawn in and to “promote and support initiatives for dialogue” is similarly irresponsible and blaming the victim, even though I don’t think that’s how it was meant. The only way this conflict will end is if the Russian people depose Putin, withdraw their troops immediately and make restitution to Ukraine. Other nations demanding “dialogue” without intervening will only result in the murder of more Ukrainians.
Worse still, after the address, the Pope Francis Twitter account (which is obviously not directly run by Francis himself) tweeted “Saddened by the immeasurable suffering of the Ukrainian people as a result of the aggression, I address the President of Ukraine with the same confidence, urging him to be open to serious peace proposals” and tagged Zelenskyy’s Twitter. This was part of a series of chunks of the Angelus address tweeted out, not as a thread but as a series of single tweets so the audience couldn’t immediately see the context. And, at least according to Google Translate which I used to see what the Pope was saying, they tweeted it in Russian, not Ukrainian. Commentators were so confused and offended they assumed the Pope had been hacked.
Again, I don’t think Pope Francis himself meant to be so insulting to the victims of this genocide, but the tweet is at minimum a public relations nightmare.
Nothing Ukraine can do will stop this atrocity, save for what they’re already doing. They can keep fighting back until the Russian troops are back in Russia where they belong. Any “proposal for peace” they accept will leave their own countrymen dead.
It’s grossly irresponsible for the Pope to be so careless in his address. He needs to apologize and clarify his statement. I don’t think he’s going to do that, but he should.
My prayers go out to the Ukrainian people, to the brave Russians who are defying their tyrannical president, and to everyone fighting to defend Ukraine from this genocide. You deserve better.
image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.