Roberto de Mattei, historian and former vice president of the National Research Council, directs the Fondazione Lepanto, the monthly Radici Cristiane, and the press agency CorrispondenzaRomana.
After recalling that no one can sing victory over a pile of rubble, Pope Francis reiterated that war destroys both winners and losers. These are the positions of the realist school of international relations: war may be legitimate, but it is “a form of moral failure,” as for example George Kennan wrote.
“The pope has never been a Tolstoyan pacifist. Over Leo Tolstoy he has always preferred Fyodor Dostoevsky, an author who shows the tragic aspect of reality. My impression, however, is that the war has definitively dissolved the utopia of human brotherhood set out in the encyclical Fratellli tutti.”
Do you see a change of perspective?
“War is like death. It is an indelible part of man’s destiny. The idea of a universal brotherhood is absent from the Gospel and is not a Christian value.”
But Christ asked us to love one another.
“That is a summons to supernatural charity, which has its foundation in grace and truth. Pope Francis has been immersed, I would say, in a bath of tragic realism. In my view, he is heading through the sunset of his pontificate.”
“I am not referring to his physical condition, but to the failure of a pastoral project to which he had committed all his energies. The missed meeting with Patriarch Kirill is a symbolic expression of this failure.”
In exerting himself briskly for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine, however, he has shown courage and authority. Or do you think he gave in to the invaders?
“The head of Vatican diplomacy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has affirmed that the right to defend one’s people and one’s country sometimes also involves the sad recourse to arms. I believe that this is the position of the pope today.”
So, for the Church, are there just wars?
“Of course. They are the wars that are fought out of necessity, so that God may free us from a state of injustice and keeps us in peace. War can be ‘just’ if the peace toward which it tends is just.”
What are the criteria indicated by the magisterium?
“A war is licit when it is waged by a legitimate authority, to defend against an unjust and present aggression. The Catechism of John Paul II at no. 2309 establishes these conditions: a) all other means to put an end to the aggression must prove impractical or ineffective; b) the aggressor must not be harmed more than necessary; c) the defensive war must have the probability of success and must not endanger goods greater than those it is intended to protect.”
Is the pope’s strategy in keeping with that of the magisterium? Or, as some suggest, is it just the daughter of his instinctive anti-Americanism?
“The pope, who before being Francis was the militant Peronist Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is certainly an adversary of the American empire. But I see no trace of anti-Americanism in the position he has currently taken.”
The left, including the Atlanticist, which still considered him an ally, seems disappointed.
“In reality, the abandonment of Pope Francis by a certain progressive establishment dates back to at least a year ago, after the Amazon synod did not bring the desired results: getting over the hurdles of priestly celibacy and the female priesthood. Perhaps the left was too hasty in identifying Bergoglio as its world leader. The fact is that he has not carried out the plan of the international left.”
Speaking of America: the United States has repeatedly acted in such a way as to sabotage dialogue.
“In peace, as in war, each power pursues its own interests. The war in Ukraine is a proxy war that brings to mind the one between the United States and the Soviet Union on the Korean peninsula between 1950 and 1953. Back then the Soviets used the armies of North Korea and Maoist China to promote their desire to expand into East Asia. Here instead it is not Russia that is making use of China, but China that is seeking to take full advantage of the conflict. And it is China, not Russia, in my view, that is the real opponent of the White House.”
Francis is afraid that the regional conflict in Ukraine is the proscenium of the confrontation between the US and Russia. Is this the “piecemeal third world war” that the pope has been talking about since 2014?
“What is happening accomplishes exactly that scenario. The ‘global’ character of the war does not lie so much in the intensity of the fighting, or in the move from conventional to nuclear warfare; it lies in its worldwide extension. It is in fact likely that new war fronts will open in the Caucasus and along the Eurasian geopolitical line that, from Russia, leads all the way to China.”
And Africa? If there is a lack of bread and raw materials, people there die of hunger, other wars break out, and yet another migratory bomb is set off.
“Certainly. The military dimension brings the threat of food shortages more so than in the past.”
In an interview with the Argentine newspaper La Nación, Bergoglio replied to those who accused him of never having condemned Vladimir Putin: “A pope never appoints a head of state.”
«Francis is right. Pius XI and Pius XII condemned Nazism and Communism, but never directly named Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. However, the pope has explicitly condemned the aggression suffered by the Ukrainian people, and no one is unaware of the author of the aggression. And he kissed the Ukrainian flag, it seems to me, not the Russian one….”
Also, if the goal is to reach a negotiation, it does not help to call the Russian president a “pig,” as Luigi Di Maio has done. Isn’t that so?
“Outbursts such as that of minister Di Maio are improper for a politician and show a certain immaturity. To call Putin a criminal, or a madman, means believing that the invasion of Ukraine is the fruit of a mental disorder.”
“Putin’s war is a rational choice that must be framed in a vast geophilosophy of history. Putin’s plan is not only that of conquering the Donbas or southern Ukraine, but of opposing the West, which he considers intrinsically corrupt according to his post-Stalinist vision of the ‘Third Rome.’ One would have to read Aleksandr Dugin and Ivan Ilyn to understand this.”
Was it right to have the 13th station of the Via Crucis on Good Friday feature a Russian woman and a Ukrainian woman?
“I didn’t see anything scandalous there. Besides, the station took place in silence. Not one inappropriate word was uttered.”
In the East, not everyone in the Catholic Church has shown appreciation. Here in the West, is there unanimous consensus around Francis’s conduct?
“There are certainly fault lines, which however also arise from a difficulty in understanding the pontiff’s actions. There are also attempts at exploitation.”
What do you think, for example, of the fact that the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See tried to hang his hat on the pope’s forgoing the meeting with Kirill?
“Andrii Yurash, the new ambassador of Ukraine to the Holy See, of the Orthodox faith, is a university professor and an expert in relations between state and Church who carries out his mission very well, advancing, as is obvious, the interests of his country. The pope and Vatican diplomacy should have a universal and transcendent vision of the political events of our time.”
Here instead we get down to basics: are there territorial and political concessions to Putin that it would be morally legitimate for the Holy See to endorse?
“I don’t think it is up to the Holy See to go into these details. What the Church has the duty to recall are the criteria of justice and charity that should be the foundation of relations between men and women in peace and in war. Today the laws of civil coexistence, both in peace and in war, are being violated. How can anyone wonder at the massacre of the Ukrainian population after endorsing the systematic massacre of that state murder which is abortion?
There have been other very serious international crises in which the papacy has made a decisive contribution to defusing dangerous escalations: one need only think of Cuba’s missiles. Is Francis called to a similar undertaking?
“Benedict XV worked intensely on the diplomatic level to put an end to World War I, which he called as a ‘useless massacre.’ Unfortunately without success. It is right that the Church should try to offer her contribution to peace through diplomatic channels. But even more important is that, through its magisterium, it should spell out the conditions for building a true peace.”
Which can also pass through the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
“I recall that Our Lady asked in Fatima for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. This consecration, for over a century, was ignored.”
“Francis seemed the pope least suited to carry out this action, in part because he did not do so when he went to Fatima on May 12 and 13 of 2017, but on March 25 he unexpectedly granted the request of the Fatima message.”
What is the significance of this gesture?
“It is of great historical import and confirms that the hour of the fulfillment of the Fatima prophecy is drawing near.”
“On account of humanity’s impenitence, Our Lady announced at Fatima that ‘various nations will be annihilated’: a terrible prediction, albeit a conditional one, because conversion could avert this punishment. But what is not conditional, and is irreversible, is the promise of Mary.”
“The final triumph of the Immaculate Heart. This promise must fill the heart of every Catholic with hope.”
Alessandro Rico’s interview with Roberto de Mattei appeared in “La Verità” of April 25 2022