Pope leans toward Moscow on Ukraine


by Dmitry Sikorsky

Ekonomika Segodnia, 5 July 2019


The latest statement of Roman Pope Francis on Ukraine is connected with yesterday's visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Vatican, but it does not change the church situation in this country," thinks senior academic fellow of RISI, Oleg Nemensky.


Francis' statement on Ukraine bears political character


The fact is that Francis, after his meeting with Putin, conducted negotiations with hierarchs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. This is a church that worships according to the Orthodox rite but is subordinate to the Vatican and accepts the Catholic version of the [Nicene] Creed.


Francis thinks that Ukraine has been experiencing difficult times for a long time, since conflict has been continuing in this country for more than five years.


At the same time, his assessment of the situation in the Donbass is interesting. The Roman pope noted that many call this conflict a hybrid since military actions are going on there, which officials try to hide. Also occurring there is sufferings of the weakest and least, which are aggravated by various political and propagandistic swindlers in which the church factor is also actively exploited.


It is important to note that Francis characterized de facto the war in the Donbass as a Ukrainian civil conflict and he noted that the authorities in Ukraine exploit the church factor for their political affairs. All of this corresponds with Russia's official assessments.


"The opportunities for influence on the part of the Vatican on Kiev are limited because of the fact that the Roman See has good relations with the Moscow patriarchate. This is perceived extremely negatively in Ukraine today," Nemensky thinks.


As the expert notes, those people who are conducting machinations with the church in Ukraine are not connected in any way with Catholicism and the Vatican, which is obvious in the fact that the former president of this country, Petro Poroshenko, is still listed as a deacon of the UPTsMP. But after all, it is with the canonical church that Poroshenko fought within the context of his untranationalistic program "Army. Language. Faith."


An exception may be that the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Andrei Paruby, actually is a Greek Catholic. At the same time, even Greek Catholics from the Ukrainian parliament try to keep their distance from the topic of the Orthodox church in Ukraine, considering it none of their business.


There also are the absurd statements by the head of the PTsU, the so-called Metropolitan Epifany, to the effect that his organization will allow unification with Ukrainian Greek Catholics. However, these strange words only discredit the person, confirming his comical status.


"On the whole, the Vatican will not try to seriously influence the situation in Ukraine somehow, even if Francis' statement is a consequence of his meeting with Putin. For the Vatican, the problem of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is too small; the Roman pope has problems in the Ukrainian land that are more important: that is the western Ukraine and also the situation of the Uniate and Catholic churches there," Nemensky sums up.


Oleg Borisovich thinks that the Vatican will not slip into what is not its business in Ukraine and will limit itself to this statement.

The position of the Vatican will disappoint the Ukrainian side

The director of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Roman Lunkin, in a conversation with Ekonomika Segodnia, came to the conclusion that there exist points of contact for Moscow and the Vatican, but everything here is extremely specific.


"The Catholic Church and Roman Pope Francis exert influence in political discussions involving Ukraine. This is connected with the situation in this country and the fact that political and church disagreements in Ukraine have intensified substantially," Lunkin concludes.


This is, in the first place, the church schism that was constructed by Poroshenko, Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, and also the former cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Mikhail Denisenko, who for a space of two and a half decades has called himself "Patriarch Filaret," and who heads the UPTsKP.


"The points of contact between Moscow and the Vatican have, in the main, already been found. They were indicated in the Havana declaration after Francis met with Patriarch of Moscow Kirill in the main airport of the Cuban capital," Lunkin concludes.


Roman Nikolaevich says that the main coincidence here is the fact that the Vatican fundamentally supports the position of the Moscow patriarchate and recognizes it as the canonical church in Ukraine. This was specifically stated in this declaration, where it says in black and white that the canonical church in Ukraine is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and not other Ukrainian organizations.


"After the conflict of Moscow and Constantinople, the Vatican does not intend to recognize the noncanonical church of Ukraine, with which Ukrainian Greek Catholics maintain their relations. Here there is also the Vatican's concession to the RPTsMP on the question of Uniatism. Francis said that Uniatism in and of itself is no longer an acceptable phenomenon," Lunkin sums up.


This is an important statement, which calls into question Uniatism in Ukraine, which over the course of centuries was an analogue to the PTsU or the UPTsKP, that is, a means for severing residents of Ukraine from unity with Moscow and also unity with the Russian Orthodox Church.


In essence, Francis thinks that this model is antiquated and that Christian churches should not use such things any longer. This also correlates with the ancient wish of Uniates to elect their own patriarch under the supremacy of the pope, which Moscow opposes.


"This greatly offended Greek Catholics, which is why this meeting was held today," Lunkin concludes.


The Roman pope is also pleased that Russia is protecting Christians in the Near East and therefore the dialogue between Moscow and the Vatican will definitely continue.  (tr. by PDS, posted 8 July 2019)

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