Pope Francis: Russia’s use of mercenaries in Ukraine is ‘monstrous’

Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, June 8, 2022 (Pope Francis sad / praying / mourning) Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, June 8, 2022. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Pope Francis described Russia’s use of mercenaries in the Ukraine war as “monstrous” in an interview published on Tuesday.

Speaking to the editors of Jesuit journals, the pope also suggested that the war, which began with a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, was “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented.”

The conversation, which also touched on the Second Vatican Council and the German “Synodal Way,” was published in La Civiltà Cattolica on June 14 but was conducted on May 19.

Commenting on Ukraine, the pope said: “What we are seeing is the brutality and ferocity with which this war is being carried out by the troops, generally mercenaries, used by the Russians. The Russians prefer to send in Chechen and Syrian mercenaries.”

“But the danger is that we only see this, which is monstrous, and we do not see the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented. And note the interest in testing and selling weapons. It is very sad, but at the end of the day that is what is at stake.”

He rejected suggestions that he was in favor of Russian President Vladimir Putin, emphasizing that he was “simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys.”

The pope said: “Someone may say to me at this point: so you are pro-Putin! No, I am not. It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing. I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex.”

“While we see the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops, we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved.”

“It is also true that the Russians thought it would all be over in a week. But they miscalculated. They encountered a brave people, a people who are struggling to survive and who have a history of struggle.”

The pope added that he hoped to meet with Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill in Kazakhstan in September.

“I hope to be able to greet him and speak a little with him as a pastor,” he commented.

The challenge of ‘restorationism’

Elsewhere in the conversation with editors, the pope criticized what he called “restorationism” in the Church, suggesting that the United States was a hotbed of “restorers.”

He said: “Restorationism has come to gag the Council. The number of groups of ‘restorers’ ⁠— for example, in the United States there are many ⁠— is significant.”

“An Argentine bishop told me that he had been asked to administer a diocese that had fallen into the hands of these ‘restorers.’ They had never accepted the Council.”

“There are ideas, behaviors that arise from a restorationism that basically did not accept the Council.”

“The problem is precisely this: in some contexts, the Council has not yet been accepted. It is also true that it takes a century for a Council to take root. We still have 40 years to make it take root, then!”

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External pressures on Germany’s ‘Synodal Way’

Asked about the “Synodal Way” in Germany, and the charge by some that it is heretical, Pope Francis referenced a letter he wrote to German Catholics in 2019. 

“I wanted to write a letter about your Synodal Way. I wrote it myself, and it took me a month to write it. I did not want to involve the curia. I did it by myself. The original is Spanish and the one in German is a translation. That is where you will find my thoughts,” he said.

Francis also said he told Bishop Georg Bätzing, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, that “in Germany, there is a very good Evangelical Church. We don’t need two.”

“The problem arises,” he said, “when the synodal path comes from the intellectual, theological elites, and is much influenced by external pressures. There are some dioceses where the synodal way is being developed with the faithful, with the people, slowly.”

Discussing the war with Ukrainians

The interview with Jesuit magazine editors was published after it emerged that Pope Francis discussed his stance on the war with a Ukrainian delegation on June 8.

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One participant, Myroslav Marynovych, the vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, described the meeting as “very significant.”

He said: “We all left the meeting feeling grateful to the pope for the opportunity to share our thoughts and were truly inspired. This conversation was very significant for all of us.”

“Of course, it does not mean that from now on, the pope will view the world through the Ukrainian prism. Indeed, in the future, it might be important for Ukrainians to hear the Vatican’s perspective on certain issues.”

“However, today there is one thing we can be certain about: communication crises must be resolved via friendly communication. And that is what we tried to do while in the Vatican.”

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