by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Two newspaper articles this past May 3rd referring to Pope Francis’ attitude and actions toward the war in Ukraine, demonstrate the need to read such reporting carefully.
The Wall Street Journal excoriated the Pope with an editorial entitled “POPE FRANCIS BLAMES NATO”. Beginning with the charge that Francis “hasn’t directly called out Russia for starting the conflict, the WSJ goes on to say that he “blames NATO for [provoking Vladimir Putin] by accepting members that want to avoid being invaded by Russia. What a terrible moral signal to send to dictators.” The article quotes the Pope [correctly; cf. below*] who when asked if it was right to send weapons so Ukraine can defend itself, the Pope answered: ‘I don’t know.’ The editorial concludes: “Francis’ equivocating on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is all the more frustrating for those who recall how powerful a force for good a Pope can be.”
That same day the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published a lengthy interview with the Pope, which, if The Wall Street Journal had done its homework, would have/should have changed its opinions about Francis and the war. The title of the newspaper’s report was “I AM READY TO MEET PUTIN IN MOSCOW” and ranges over the principal issues cited in the Journal. It sounded anything but “equivocating”.
Item: Pope Francis stated that on the very day of Russia’s invasion, February 24th, “I immediately said: ‘Stop, stop the war.’”
Item: “That first day of the war I called the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone but I didn’t call Putin… it was meant to be a clear gesture for the whole world to see… and for that reason I paid a visit [on February 25th] to the Russian ambassador. I asked for explanations and told him ‘in the name of God, stop this war.’”
Item: “About twenty days into the war, I asked Cardinal Parolin [Secretary of State] to convey my message to Putin that I was ready to travel to Moscow for sure. We received no answer whatsoever, but we keep pressing them on this issue. I fear, however, that Putin cannot, or does not want to agree to our meeting at the moment.”
Item: Regarding military assistance to Ukranian fighters the Pope said, “I can’t answer that question. I live too far away. I don’t know if it is the right thing to do.”
(*Significantly, in the same interview referring to another conflict with Russia, the Pope said: “The Ukrainians cannot be blamed for having fought back in the Donbass.”)
Item: Francis continued, “I am not ready to travel to Kyiv, not yet. First, I must go to Moscow. I want to meet Putin first of all. If Putin decided to leave the door open…”
Item: “I spoke with [Russian Orthodox Patriarch] Kirill for forty minutes on Zoom. For the first twenty minutes he read all the reasons that justify the Russian invasion. I listened to him and then replied: ‘I don’t understand any of this. Brother, we are not state clerics… A Patriarch cannot become Putin’s altar boy.”
Item: Later Pope Francis said, “It’s unthinkable that a free state can unleash a war against another free state… The Russians have taken not just the Donbass region but Crimea, Odessa, the ports on the Black Sea, everything. I have a bad feeling about it all, I’ll admit, I’m very pessimistic. However, it is our duty to do all we can to stop the wars.”
The Pope concluded the interview saying, “I urge all journalists to keep on researching and investigating what is happening around the world, to keep on telling it as it is… I will be forever grateful for all you do…”
It would be good for The Wall Street Journal to put into practice Francis’ request and actually tell it as it is.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.