Pope Francis is mocked and castigated for daring to propose negotiation to end the bloodshed and destruction

By ITV staff/CNA

Vatican, May 13, 2023. Pope Francis meets the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky

Pope Francis granted an interview March 9 in which he may have unwittingly dealt a blow to the Vatican’s position as a respected “third party” who alone might be able to facilitate some kind of negotiations to end the bloody and increasingly disastrous conflict in Ukraine.

In the interview with Radio Television Suisse, interviewer Lorenzo Buccella asks the Pope: “In Ukraine, some call for the courage of surrender, of the white flag. But others say that this would legitimize the stronger party. What do you think?”

Pope Francis, 87, replied: “That is one interpretation. But I believe that the stronger one is the one who sees the situation, who thinks of the people, who has the courage of the white flag, to negotiate. And today, negotiations are possible with the help of international powers.

“The word ‘negotiate’ is a courageous word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, it is necessary to have the courage to negotiate. You may feel ashamed, but with how many deaths will it end? Negotiate in time; look for some country that can mediate. Today, for example in the war in Ukraine, there are many who want to mediate. Turkey has offered itself for this. And others. Do not be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.”

As Vatican News observed, the Pope was not really saying anything new. “Thus, the Pope’s words, taking up the image proposed by the interviewer, reiterate, among other things, what has already been stated in these two years of continuous appeals and public statements, namely, the importance of dialogue against the madness’ of war and the primary concern for the fate of the civilian population.”

Yet, criticism of the Pope’s interview answer began to flow from many quarters almost instantly. “Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, 42, wrote in a post on X on March 10. Kuleba disputed the Pope’s comments that it would be “courageous” to negotiate with Russia, writing: “The strongest is the one who, in the battle between good and evil, stands on the side of good rather than attempting to put them on the same footing and call it ‘negotiations.’”

Kuleba further criticized the Holy See. “When it comes to the white flag, we know this Vatican’s strategy from the first half of the 20th century,” he said.

Ukrainian Ambassador to the Holy See Andrii Yurash issued his own rebuke to the Pope in a March 11 interview with NBC, saying: “Nobody at the time of World War II was proposing to the people enslaved by Hitler or those who were suffering or fighting him to start peace negotiations.”

The ambassador suggested that just as a truce with Hitler would have meant “suicide and death,” a truce with Russian President Vladimir Putin would also constitute “suicide and death.”

The Pope’s remarks also generated responses from ecclesial communities in Ukraine, including the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the AllUkrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, the latter an interreligious association aimed at fostering dialogue and collaborating in Church-state relations in the predominantly Orthodox country.

“Ukrainians cannot surrender because surrender means death,” the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church wrote in a statement released on March 10.

“Notwithstanding the suggestions for need for negotiations coming from representatives of different countries, including the Holy Father himself, Ukrainians will continue to defend freedom and dignity to achieve a peace that is just,” the statement continued.

Arguing that “the intentions of Putin and Russia are clear and explicit,” the synod also suggested that the war is not just a unilateral action waged by the Russian government but is supported by “70% of the Russian population” as well as by “Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church.”

The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations on Sunday also issued a statement, “categorically declar[ing] that no one will ever force our people to capitulate.”

Vatican, April 6, 2022. Pope Francis meets with some children from Ukraine at the Wednesday General Audience. In the photo, as a sign of solidarity he is displays a Ukrainian flag from the town of Bucha.

Negotiation is not surrender

In a world exclusive interview March 11, Inside the Vatican editor-in-chief Robert Moynihan discussed the Russia-Ukraine war and the Holy Father’s March 9 remarks with the Russian Leonid Sevastianov, the President of the World Union of Old Believers (an Orthodox group who maintain the liturgical and ritual practices of the Russian Orthodox Church as they were before 17th-century reforms), husband of international opera star Svetlana Kasyan, and friend of Pope Francis.

Mr. Sevastionov told Dr. Moynihan that he considers Pope Francis his “spiritual father,” despite the fact that he is not a Catholic, and speaks to Francis on the phone every week.

“The white flag does not mean surrender,” insists Mr. Sevastianov. “When someone raises a white flag, it means, ‘Stop, I have something to tell you.’”

“At that moment, the other party stops shooting – a ceasefire – and they wait to receive deputies from the enemy’s army… to discuss pragmatic things. It does not mean ‘surrender’ – only ‘negotiation.’”

Why did so many rush to attack the Pope? “Either they are ignorant and don’t understand, or they are doing it intentionally because they want to keep the war going,” said Sevastianov. “The Pope is the only one who has no financial interest in this war. Many want to discredit him just because they are profiting from war expenditures and do not want it to end.”

Clarifying the Pope’s position

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, 69, Vatican Secretary of State, is the Pope’s closest collaborator and leads the Holy See’s diplomacy. In a March 11 interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Cardinal Parolin sought to clarify and also buttress the Pope’s statements.

“As recalled by the director of the Vatican press office, citing the words of the Holy Father of 25 February, the Pontiff’s appeal is that ‘the conditions are created for a diplomatic solution in search of a just and lasting peace,’” said the cardinal. “In this sense it is obvious that the creation of such conditions is not just up to one of the parties, but rather to both, and the first condition seems to me to be precisely that of putting an end to the aggression. We must never forget the context and, in this case, the question that was asked of the Pope, who, in response, spoke of negotiation and, in particular, of the courage of negotiation, which is never a surrender.

“The Holy See pursues this line and continues to ask for a ‘ceasefire’ — and the aggressors should be the ones who cease fire — and therefore the opening of negotiations. The Holy Father explains that negotiating is not weakness, but strength. It’s not surrender, but it’s courage. And he tells us that we must have a greater regard for human life, for the hundreds of thousands of human lives that have been sacrificed in this war in the heart of Europe. These are words that are valid for Ukraine as well as for the Holy Land and for the other conflicts that are bloodying the world.”

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