Pope Francis Defends His Stance on Ukraine War

From a Wall Street Journal story by Francis X. Rocca headlined “Pope Francis Defends His Stance on Ukraine War”:

Pope Francis defended his practice of not naming Russia as the aggressor in Ukraine, saying that his condemnation of Moscow has been clear even though not explicit.

The pope, speaking to a U.S. Catholic magazine, emphasized the value of diplomacy in the Vatican’s approach to the Ukraine war, as well as in regard to China.

“When I speak about Ukraine, I speak of a people who are martyred. If you have a martyred people, you have someone who martyrs them,” the pope told America magazine. “It is well known whom I am condemning. It is not necessary that I put a name and surname.”

“Why do I not name Putin? Because it is not necessary,” the pope said. “Everyone knows my stance, with Putin or without Putin.”

The pope has frequently deplored the suffering of ordinary Ukrainians during the war, but has tended to avoid explicitly blaming Russia, and has suggested that its invasion of Ukraine was provoked by the West.

In the interview, the pope said the war had a “historical antecedent” in Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s terror famine of the 1930s, which killed millions of Ukrainians in what the pope called a genocide—a comparison the pope also drew in other public statements last week.

Of the current conflict, the pope said that “the one who invades is the Russian state,” but suggested that the worst atrocities in Ukraine have been committed by soldiers of non-Russian ethnicities.

“I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in. Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also defended the Vatican’s power-sharing agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops in China, which has been criticized as a surrender of religious freedom.

The pope said the agreement was modeled on the Vatican’s Cold War policy of Ostpolitik, which he said had allowed the church to preserve its institutional presence in Communist countries through dialogue and compromise on the appointment of bishops.

The pope gave the interview four days before the Vatican publicly accused Beijing of breaking the accord by installing a Catholic bishop as leader of a diocese not recognized by the Vatican. “With China I have opted for the way of dialogue,” he said. “It is slow, it has its failures, it has its successes, but I cannot find another way.”

Asked about the topic of clerical sex abuse, Pope Francis said the church must “keep moving forward with seriousness and with shame” in confronting the problem. He highlighted what he said was the progress achieved in the past 20 years, since a series of Boston Globe reports revealed widespread abuse and coverup in the Archdiocese of Boston.

“The church made the decision to not cover up” abuse, the pope said. “When honest people see how the church is taking responsibility for this monstrosity, they understand that the church is one thing while the abusers who are being punished by the church are another.”

Francis X. Rocca covers the Vatican for The Wall Street Journal. He is a graduate of Harvard College and holds a master’s in liberal arts from St. John’s College (Annapolis) and a doctorate in Renaissance studies from Yale University.

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