Russian Orthodox Church: Pope Francis’ comments about talks with Patriarch Kirill ‘regrettable’

Pope Francis takes part in a video call with Patriarch Kirill on March 16, 2022. Pope Francis takes part in a video call with Patriarch Kirill on March 16, 2022. | Vatican Media.

The Russian Orthodox Church on Wednesday described Pope Francis’ recent comments about his discussion of the Ukraine war with Patriarch Kirill as “regrettable.”

The Moscow Patriarchate’s external relations department said in a May 4 statement that the pope’s words were “unlikely to contribute to the establishment of a constructive dialogue” between the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church.

The pope and the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia discussed the war during a video conference call on March 16. In an interview with an Italian newspaper published on May 3, Pope Francis said that “a patriarch can’t lower himself to become Putin’s altar boy.”

The statement issued by the communications service of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR) said: “It is regrettable that a month and a half after the conversation with Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis chose the wrong tone to convey the content of this conversation.”

“Such statements are unlikely to contribute to the establishment of a constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, which is especially necessary at the present time.”

In the interview published on Tuesday, Pope Francis said that he spoke with Patriarch Kirill for 40 minutes via the video-conferencing service Zoom.

“For the first 20 minutes, he read from a piece of paper he was holding in his hand all the reasons that justify the Russian invasion,” the pope said.

“I listened to him and then replied: I don’t understand any of this. Brother, we are not state clerics, we shouldn’t speak the language of politics, but rather the language of Jesus. We are shepherds of the same holy flock of God.”

“For this reason, we must look for a path to peace, we must stop the fighting. A patriarch can’t lower himself to become Putin’s altar boy.”

The pope added that he and Kirill had called off a meeting in Jerusalem on June 14, saying “we agreed that it could send the wrong message.”

The statement from the Russian Orthodox Church came on the same day that Agence France-Presse reported that the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, is considering imposing sanctions on Patriarch Kirill.

The news agency said it had seen a document describing the patriarch as “a long-time ally of President Vladimir Putin, who has become one of the main supporters of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine.”

The EU has imposed sanctions on more than 1,000 individuals in connection with the Ukraine war, consisting of asset freezes and travel restrictions. Sanctions against Patriarch Kirill would require EU member states’ approval.

In its statement, the Moscow Patriarchate’s external relations department said that the patriarch told the pope about an incident in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa in 2014.

He said that “a peaceful meeting of Russian-speaking residents” was “attacked by representatives of Nazi groups,” who then set fire to a building where the residents sought refuge.

He described the event, in which 42 people died, as a “horrifying lesson” that “influenced the decision of the residents of southeastern Ukraine to defend their rights.”

The patriarch also criticized the eastward expansion of NATO, which the statement said had created “a most dangerous situation.”

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The statement said that Kirill concluded by noting that members of his flock were on both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war.

The patriarch asked: “How can we contribute to the pacification of the warring with one goal: to achieve the consolidation of peace and justice? It is very important in the present circumstances to avoid further escalation.”

Catholic bishops across Europe have appealed to Patriarch Kirill to speak out against the invasion of Ukraine, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 civilians since Feb. 24. They include Poland’s Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Luxembourg’s Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, and the Irish bishops.

The Russian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

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