Time to End the Shameful Vatican Silence About the Ukraine Invasion

Excerpted From the National Catholic Reporter

Editorial: “Time for Pope Francis to speak up about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the first war in Europe of the 21st century. As such, it poses unique challenges to the world. And the pope, the most universally recognized voice of moral authority in the world, must find his voice and calibrate it to meet those challenges.


The first fact that commands attention is that the aggressor is also a nuclear power. Any steps that escalate the war must be weighed against the possibility that such escalation might entice Russian President Vladimir Putin to order the use of nuclear weapons. That line has not been crossed since 1945 and it must not be crossed ever again.

Russia analyst Fiona Hill has warned that Russia’s hypersonic nuclear missiles are a real threat. The pope needs to speak, and speak clearly, to stigmatize any recourse to even tactical nuclear weapons.

The rise of ethno-nationalism has challenged the vision of a peaceful, unified Europe for which the Vatican has so long labored. . . .

The violence of the attack on Ukraine makes the pope’s moral voice even more necessary.

This is among the first conflicts in which the ubiquity of handheld devices has resulted in real-time documentation of the atrocities being committed.

It was one thing to read about the murders in Srebrenica or the genocide in Rwanda. Now, every day, videos of Russian bombs hitting apartment buildings in suburban Kyiv and Kharkiv make their way to televisions around the world.

The Holy Father needs to give voice to the suffering people in Ukraine, to the sense of solidarity and anger all decent people feel when confronted with such atrocities.

We know that Pope Francis is capable of articulating a moral vision with clarity. . . . The pope has also sharply criticized individual governments, including those in Myanmar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.

Francis has also been unique among world leaders — and among Catholic bishops — in the degree of passion and specificity he brings to his denunciation of the evil effects of neoliberalism and its ugly children, income inequality and environmental degradation.

The Holy Father’s incisive criticisms have entered the moral lexicon for us all: “Throwaway culture,” “globalization of indifference” and “economy of exclusion,” are now used by theologians and ethicists throughout the world.

So, it was not surprising that some Vatican watchers have been puzzled that Francis’ voice on Ukraine has been more ambivalent, less strident. . . .

No one wants to see a pope calling for any kind of a holy war. The entanglement of Christianity with nationalism is almost always ugly and regrettable. . . .

At least on March 6 the pope was more accurate when he said during his weekly Angelus address: “Rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine. It is not merely a military operation, but a war, which sows death, destruction and misery.”

The pope also announced that he was sending two cardinals to the region. . . . The two will be focused on addressing the humanitarian disaster that is an immediate consequence of the war.

Of course, the church must be at the forefront of efforts to alleviate the suffering of those who are fleeing Ukraine. And no one wants to see a pope calling for any kind of a holy war. The entanglement of Christianity with nationalism is almost always ugly and regrettable.

We also note that this pope has gone further in redirecting the church’s teaching toward nonviolence, raising questions about the continued applicability of just war theory.
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We admit, too, that we do not know the extent of Vatican efforts to affect a diplomatic resolution of the crisis. The Vatican has offered itself as a mediator for the conflict and called for humanitarian corridors to be established.

But no one at the Holy See has gone as far as Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, who unambiguously denounced the invasion. . . .

Based on the evidence of the past few years, any hope that the Russian patriarch [Kirill] might stand up to Putin or even try to serve as an honest broker is misplaced. The adjective making the rounds of the Vatican is “delusional.” Patriarch Kirill has been nothing but a pawn for Putin and there is no reason to think this leopard will change his spots.

Whatever is happening behind the scenes, it is time for Francis to speak the truth about the murderous assault on Ukraine. It is time to speak as clearly about Putin’s warmongering as he has about the disastrous premises and consequences of neoliberalism. It is time to call things as they are. This is Putin’s war and it is evil.

4 thoughts on “Time to End the Shameful Vatican Silence About the Ukraine Invasion”

  1. If Francis is serious about mediating between Russia and Ukraine, as I hope he is, he needs to build trust with both parties to the conflict, which must be like walking a tightrope. Public outright condemnation, however much it may be deserved, of one side only would seriously jeopardise his efforts. I’m no apologist for Putin’s war of aggression, but we in the West need to understand that Russia has legitimate security needs that need to be addressed, e.g. through Ukrainian neutrality. We in Western Europe (and North America) can only enjoy peace and security, if Russia feels secure. We can build common/shared security through disarmament or we can all go together into the abyss.
    In case you are wondering who I am: I’m currently serving as clerk of German Yearly Meeting’s peace committee.

    1. Hello, Gordon & welcome. I certainly hope Pope Francis is working to mediate an end to this war, and understand that would be delicate, low-profile work. I would think twice before writing such an editorial myself, as I am 65 years away from my close childhood connection to the Catholic church. However, I respect the long track record of this publication’s close & informed attention to the Vatican and its occupants, and was ready to share their voice.

    1. The full editorial includes that quote. Not enough for the editors, and many others. Maybe he can pull a cease-fire out of his little cap.

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