What is Behind the Pope's Ambiguous Statements About Russia's War?

March 20, 2023
UkraineWorld spoke to Dmytro Horyevoy, religious scholar, director of the Center for Religious Security NGO.

Key points — in our brief, #UkraineWorldAnalysis:

1. On the reasons for the Pope's spreading ambiguous narratives

  • We perceive the Pope from a European, rational, thoughtful point of view. But this is from the Global South, and thus from a completely different context. And this involves differences in perspective that may not be obvious. Nowadays, the majority of the Catholic Church's flock is made up of people in the Global South, rather than Europeans and Americans. And these statements, which seem strange, are contextually dependent, because our war is something completely distant for the Global South. 
  • Therefore, the Pope, who is from Argentina, wants to reconcile the conflicting parties. That is why we see such a mix of statements: starting from the Way of the Cross involving Russians alongside Ukrainians, complaints that the war in Ukraine distracts the world from other problems, to comments on Russians' genocide and cruelty. For example, the Pope contributed to liberating some of the Azovstal prisoners. Therefore, it seems that he is doing something symbolic toward Russia in order to remain on hand. Like Scholz and Macron, the Pope believes it is possible to talk with the Russians, so he wanted to make a double visit - to both Kyiv and Moscow.

2. On whether these statements influence believers of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

  • The Pope's stances do not affect Ukrainian Greek Catholics' attitudes. While the Pope in Rome may see fit to equivocate, Ukrainian Greek Catholics unanimously see Russia as an aggressor. Most of Ukraine's Greek Catholics come from Galicia, and they have their own painful history of relations with Russia.

3. On institutional ties between the UGCC and the Pope

  • UGCC is part of the Catholic Church, and its bishops are part of various management structures. They have communication with the Vatican. But there are various lobbies in Rome, for example, the Hungarian one, which does not want the UGCC to spread, because it would interfere with their interests in Transcarpathia. Interestingly, the Transcarpathian Greek Catholic Diocese is not part of the UGCC, but is rather directly subordinate to the Vatican.
Dmytro Horyevoy, religious scholar, director of the Center for Religious Security NGO

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.