After Patriarch Kirill handed the Russian invasion of Ukraine his seal of approval, the Pope warned the head of the Russian Orthodox Church against functioning as Putin’s ‘alter boy.’
Kirill, 75, sees the war as a bulwark against a decadent West that threatens his vision of a ‘Russky Mir’ (‘Russian World’) that encompasses Belarus and Ukraine. ‘ We (the Pope and Kirill) are both pastors of God’s people. That is why we must pursue peaceful paths and put an end to the use of armaments.
Francis was cited as saying, “The patriarch cannot become Putin’s altar boy.”
The 85-year-old pontiff also told Italy’s Corriere Della Sera daily that he had requested a meeting with Putin through Vatican ambassadors three weeks into the crisis, but had not received a response.
Pope Francis met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban two weeks ago, and was assured by the far-right leader – Putin’s main EU friend – that “the Russians have a plan,” and that “all will conclude on May 9,” referring to the end of the Soviet Union’s involvement in WWII.
With that date coming early next week, Francis communicated to Putin that he was willing to make the trip to Moscow.
‘Certainly, it was necessary for the Kremlin leader to allow an opening. We have not yet received a response and we are still insisting,’ Francis said.
He added: ‘I fear that Putin cannot, and does not, want to have this meeting at this time. But how can you not stop so much brutality?’
The Pope has walked a delicate tightrope over the conflict, condemning ‘unjustified aggression’ and lamenting atrocities against civilians, but has until now refrained from officially pointing the finger at Russia and Putin.
Asked about a trip to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, which Francis last month said was a possibility, the pope said he would not go for now.
‘First, I have to go to Moscow, first I have to meet Putin… I do what I can. If Putin would only open a door,’ he said.
Francis also appeared to suggest NATO was in part to blame for Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, which began when the Russian tyrant ordered his troops across his neighbour’s border on February 24.
He said that while he would not go as far to say that NATO’s presence in nearby countries such as Poland and the Balkans ‘provoked’ Russia, he said that the military alliance ‘perhaps facilitated’ the invasion by ‘barking’ as Putin’s door.
NATO and other countries supporting Ukraine have insisted that Moscow has been the aggressor, massing its troops on the border in the months before the invasion before launching its invasion of a sovereign country.
It has been reported on Russian Telegram channels that Putin is very sick with a triple whammy of cancer, Parkinson’s and ‘schizophrenic symptoms’, which might go some way to explaining his implacable bloodlust towards Ukraine.
Instead the head of the Catholic Church has been dealing with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, who is a full-blooded supporter of the violent conflict.
The war in Ukraine has strained relations between the two churches and caused a split among Orthodox Christians around the world.
In the interview, Francis said that when he had a 40-minute video conference with Kirill on March 16, the patriarch spent half of it reading from a sheet of paper ‘with all the justifications for the war’.
Moscow describes its action in Ukraine as a ‘special operation’ to demilitarise and ‘denazify’ its neighbour.
The pope also said that when he met Viktor Orban on April 21, the Hungarian prime minister told him ‘the Russian have a plan, that everything will end on May 9’, referring to the anniversary of Russia’s liberation at the end of World War II.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the anniversary would have no bearing on Moscow’s military operations in Ukraine.