Catholic Church: Pope Francis calls on Ukraine to surrender?

Papa Francesco invita l’Ucraina alla resa?
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By Roberto de Mattei

In an interview with Swiss Radio & Television, anticipated by agencies on March 9, Pope Francis called on Ukraine to have the courage to raise the white flag and negotiate. “I believe,” he said, “that it is stronger of who sees the situation, who thinks of the people, who has the courage of the white flag, to negotiate. And today you can negotiate with the help of international powers. The word negotiate is a brave word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going forward, it is necessary to have the courage to negotiate. You are ashamed, but how many deaths will it end with? Negotiate in time, look for some countries to mediate. Today, for example in the war in Ukraine, there are many who want to mediate. Turkey has offered to do that. And others. Don’t be ashamed to negotiate before it gets worse.” 

The Pope’s statement provoked immediate critical reactions, to the point that on the same day the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Matteo Bruni, intervened to explain that the Pontiff used the term “white flag” only because the interviewer had suggested it and that in reality Francis, with this image, only meant to say “negotiate.” But negotiate on what basis? If words have meaning, the expression “white flag” is unequivocal: it evokes unconditional surrender, a negotiation, if one wants to call it such, on the terms of the adversary. 

Beyond the white flag metaphor, it seems clear that for Francis, Ukraine has now lost the war and it is pointless for it to continue fighting if it does not want to self-destruct. In this sense, the Pope said elsewhere in the interview, “negotiation is never surrender. It is the courage not to lead the country to suicide.” To prevent Ukraine’s suicide, Francis asks it to make peace with Putin. But what peace to expect from an aggressor to whom one can apply the words that Ernst Jünger reserved for Hitler, when, during the war, he pretended to want to negotiate with Britain: “Peace could not come to him because it was not in him, it did not find dwelling in him” (Il nodo di Gordio, tr. it., Adelphi, Milan 2023, p. 92).

The party of the “surrender of others” believes that the current war is a “proxy war” waged by the United States against Russia over the skin of Ukrainians; but the argument can be reversed, because Ukrainians prefer all-out war to a “proxy peace” decided by others. They want peace, but a just peace, as just as their war is, and no one knows the acceptable conditions better than those who live in Ukraine.  

On March 10, the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, meeting at St. George’s Church in New York. commented on Pope Francis’ expressions in a statement that reads: “Ukrainians cannot surrender because surrender means death. The intentions of Putin and Russia are clear and explicit. The aims are not those of one individual: 70 % of the Russian population support the genocidal war against Ukraine, as does Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church. The expressed objectives are articulated in concrete actions. In Putin’s mind, there is no such thing as Ukraine, Ukrainian history, language, and independent Ukrainian church life. All matters Ukrainian are ideological constructs, fit to be eradicated. Ukraine is not a reality but a mere “ideology.” The ideology of Ukrainian identity, according to Putin, is a ‘Nazi.’ By calling all Ukrainians (who refuse to be Russians and accept Russian rule) ‘Nazis,’ Putin dehumanizes them. Nazis (in this case Ukrainians) have no right to exist. They need to be annihilated, killed.” This war’s purpose, continues the Ukrainian Synod, is “to eliminate Ukraine and Ukrainians. It is worth mentioning that every Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory leads to the eradication of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, any independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and to the suppression of other religions and all institutions and cultural expressions that do not support Russian hegemony.  Ukrainians will continue to defend themselves. They feel they have no choice. Recent history has demonstrated that with Putin there will be no true negotiations. … 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. They believe in freedom and God-given human dignity. They believe in truth, God’s truth. They are convinced that God’s truth will prevail.”

The communiqué is signed by bishops Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Head and Father of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; Borys Gudziak, Archbishop and Metropolitan of Philadelphia; Volodymyr Yushchak, Eparch of Wroclaw-Koshalin; Bohdan Dzyurakh, Apostolic Exarch in Germany and Scandinavia; and Josaphat Moshchych, Bishop of Černivtsi.

On this important political and pastoral issue, the Ukrainian bishops are right. No one knows better than they do the land of Ukraine and the sufferings of the souls who live and die there. They know above all the reasons why the Ukrainian people suffer and fight: the strenuous will to defend their religious and state identity and their freedom. Theirs is a legitimate war against an unjust aggressor.

On March 12 in an interview with “Corriere della Sera,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who as secretary of state heads the Vatican diplomacy, made it clear that the Holy See calls for a “ceasefire,” but “those who cease fire should first of all be the aggressors,” and only on this basis can negotiations be opened: “The war unleashed against Ukraine is not the effect of an uncontrolled natural calamity but of human will alone, and the same human will that caused this tragedy also has the possibility and responsibility to take steps to end it and open the way for a diplomatic solution.” 

Reconciling the Pope’s words with those of Cardinal Parolin seems impossible. It is these constant contradictions of the pontificate that generate confusion among the faithful who need clarity and consistency first and foremost. 

 Finally, has Russia really won the war? Putin was convinced that he would conquer Ukraine in a few days and after two years he had to pay a very high price in human lives to control a limited part of Ukrainian territory ( 

Ukraine is unbowed and Russian troops are exhausted from months of fighting. In addition, Putin’s war to draw NATO away from the Russian border has resulted in a widening Western coalition presence on Russia’s borders, with Finland and Sweden abandoning their historic neutrality, while Germany rearms itself and a European army could become the first political realization of an otherwise failing European Union. To give in at this time would be to encourage Putin to continue his imperial project, inevitably dragging the world into wider war. Russia is not winning militarily, but in hybrid warfare, because of the alarming psychological and moral failure of its adversaries, who in the face of the birds of prey attacking them are donning the robes of doves. 

Ten years ago, on the occasion of the Angelus on Jan. 26, 2014, Pope Francis, after inviting prayers for peace in Ukraine, released two doves in St. Peter’s Square. Immediately the birds were attacked by a seagull and a crow. The two doves, symbols of peace, were mauled. The Pontiff was affected and recalled this in his interview, “There is an image that always comes to me. On the occasion of a commemoration I had to speak about peace and release two doves. The first time I did it, immediately a crow present in St. Peter’s Square got up, grabbed the dove and took it away. That’s harsh. And that’s kind of what happens with war.” 

True, war must be avoided at all costs, but when it breaks out it is time for hawks, not doves.

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