Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
In his quest to ingratiate himself with the Russians, Pope Francis has taken a number of actions and made a number of statements that, at best, demonstrate a serious lack of judgement, at worst a capitulation to an evil empire.
Right from the beginning of the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, the Pope was reluctant to name Moscow as an aggressor claiming instead that it was his wish to remain neutral in the conflict. Thus, he decided to have both a Ukrainian and a Russian woman carry a cross together during that year’s Good Friday evening procession. Ukrainian Greek Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk called the idea “inappropriate and ambiguous and does not take into account the context of Russian military aggression against Ukraine.” He added that the gesture was “incoherent and even offensive, particularly as we await the second, more bloody attack of Russian troops on our cities and villages.”
Then, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that ran May 3, 2022 Francis said that the real “scandal” of Putin’s war is “NATO barking at Russia’s door,” which he said caused the Kremlin to “react badly and unleash the conflict.” This was utter nonsense. The reason NATO expanded into former Soviet satellites or republics was because they, themselves, asked to join as they had suffered incredibly under Russian occupation and wanted to defend against any future aggression. The invasion of Ukraine proved how right they were.
For a while there the Pope kept his foot-in-mouth disease in check until he sunk to a new low during a video address broadcast to a gathering of Russia’s Catholic youth in St. Petersburg on Aug. 25, when he said:
“Never forget the legacy. You are the descendants of great Russia: great Russia of saints, rulers of great Russia Peter I, Catherine II, that empire – great, educated, great culture and great humanity. Never forsake this legacy. You are the descendants of the great mother of Russia, step forward with it”.
This sparked immediate outrage from Ukrainians. Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church expressed “great pain and concern” over the Pontiff’s statement noting: “The words about ‘the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that great, enlightened empire — a country of great culture and great humanity’ — are the worst example of imperialism and extreme Russian nationalism. There is a danger that these words could be taken as supporting the very nationalism and imperialism that has caused the war in Ukraine today — a war that brings death and destruction to our people every day.”
This prompted the Vatican to backtrack on August 29 with spokesman Matteo Bruni claiming “the pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great Russian cultural and spiritual heritage, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities”.
As far as damage control is concerned, all we can say is – nice try. It is impossible to cover up the fact that the Pope’s statements are very clear and cannot be construed otherwise. Particularly insulting is the repeated use of the word “great” especially as Muscovites refer to themselves as “Great Russians” in order to demean Ukrainians as “Little Russians” and deny their existence as a distinct nation. The question can also be raised as to what actually is positive “in the great Russian cultural and spiritual heritage”. Throughout history, Russia remained the most backward country in Europe when it came to social and political development. Right from its founding, the Duchy of Moscow adopted the Mongol model of despotism and proceeded on an aggressive campaign of imperial and colonial expansion pursuant to which it eventually came to control the largest land mass in the world. Russian territorial expansion by military conquest continues to this very day.
But what really shows an abominable ignorance of history was the praise the Pope lavished upon the two so-called “Greats” of Russia’s Tsarist past, Peter I and Catherine II. Both were ruthless mass murderers. Peter I had his own son, Alexei, tortured to death, while Catherine II ascended the throne by arranging a coup to unseat and murder her husband, Peter III. Both played critical roles in completing the enslavement of Ukraine.
Peter ordered the 1709 Sack of Baturyn, which saw Russian troops slaughter the entire population of the capital of the Ukrainian Kozak Left-Bank Hetmanate in an atrocity the sheer horror of which echoed across Europe. No one was spared, including women and children. Between 11,000 and 14,000 residents of the city were slaughtered, in many cases after being subjected to excruciating torture. Bodies of crucified Kozaks were floated down the Dnipro River to serve as an example. Peter eventually abolished the Hetmanate altogether replacing it with the “Little Russian Collegium”.
The Hetmanate was briefly revived under the rule of Empress Elizabeth, who had a Ukrainian lover, but was abolished for good when Catherine came to power. She destroyed all vestiges of Ukraine’s limited autonomy by liquidating the Zaporizhian Sich in 1775 and then greatly expanded Russia’s occupation of Ukraine to include the Right Bank and southern lands formerly held by the Crimean Tatars. This territorial expansion was coupled with the spread of serfdom across the country.
Before extolling the “greatness” of Peter the Butcher of Baturyn, the Pope should perhaps have enlightened himself about Peter’s disposition towards the Christian faith. Peter had nothing but contempt for Christianity and organized religion. At the age of 18, he founded The All-Joking, All-Drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters which mercilessly mocked the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). When that began to anger many Russians, he switched to the much safer practice of mocking the Roman Catholic Church. In 1721 he subordinated the ROC to the state by replacing the Patriarch of Moscow with a “Holy Synod” under his control. The subordination of the ROC to the state has continued to this day, the “Holy Synod” having been replaced by the KGB.
It’s time for the Pope not only to brush up on his history but to drop any pretensions he may have to being either a diplomat or a mediator. He must recognize the true nature of the ROC which is quasi-religious body that places the interests of an aggressive imperialist power ahead of its obligation to spread the message of Jesus Christ. As a man of God, he must stand up for good when confronted with evil and stop trying to maintain a veneer of neutrality:
• when one side brazenly launches an unprovoked attack on its neighbour, while the other strives only to defend its people and sovereign territory
• when one side tortures, mutilates and murders prisoners of war with impunity, while the other treats its prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention,
• when one side launches cowardly missile attacks on civilian targets from a distance, while the other valiantly defends its native land targeting enemy formations, enemy equipment and enemy munitions
• and when one side openly acknowledges its quest is to commit genocide against the other by eliminating from the face of the earth all traces of the other’s language, people, nation and state.
Saint John Paul II was very familiar with the evil that is inherent in Russian imperialism. Why is it that the current Pope seems to be oblivious to this?