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Tensions rise as Patriarch Kirill takes offense at Pope’s ‘tone’

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Patriarcha Cyryl

AP/Associated Press/East News

I.Media - published on 05/04/22

The Russian Patriarchate criticizes the "tone" attributed to Pope Francis in an interview published by an Italian newspaper on May 3.

The Patriarchate of Moscow regrets the “incorrect tone” used by Pope Francis in his interview with Corriere della Sera on May 3, 2022. In a statement issued on May 4, the Moscow Patriarchate says the Pontiff’s statements are “not likely to contribute to the establishment of a constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, which is particularly necessary at this time.”

The interview with the Italian daily was in fact not presented as a q-and-a, but as the journalist’s account of a conversation with the Pontiff. Some sharp statements were attributed to the Pope.

For example, Corriere said the Pope spoke about the 40-minute video conference he had with Russian Patriarch Kirill on March 16, saying that Kirill spent the “first 20 minutes” of their conversation reading “all the justifications” for the war.

“I listened and said: I don’t understand any of this. Brother, we are not ‘state clerics,’ we cannot use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus. We are shepherds of the same holy people of God. That is why we must look for ways to make peace, to stop the fire of weapons,” Pope Francis reportedly said. The Pope warned: “The patriarch cannot become Putin’s altar boy.”

March 16 according to Kirill

In Kirill’s response, he says the Patriarchate shared with the Pope his “point of view on the difficult situation” and insisted on the fact that the two men “lived in different fields of information.” The Russian leader mentioned “certain facts” which he wanted to draw to the Pope’s attention.

In particular, Kirill mentioned the murder of Russian-speaking Ukrainians that occurred in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in 2014. These murders he says were committed by “certain Nazi groups.” This is a reference to the death of 42 people killed in the arson of a building in Odessa after brawls between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian movements on May 2, 2014.

He also referred to the promise made to Russia “that NATO would not move an inch to the east,” a promise that he said was not kept and that generated a “very dangerous situation.” The accession of the Baltic States, he explained, places the borders of NATO just 130 km from St. Petersburg, that is to say “a few minutes” for a missile.

Kirill wants to avoid “a new escalation”

According to the statement, Kirill says he is “deeply hurt” by the conflict, considering that his “sheep” are “on both sides of the conflict.” He also noted that a “part” of those involved belonged to the Pontiff’s “flock.”

Leaving aside the “geopolitical component,” he then asked the Pope how the two men and their Churches could influence “the state of things” to allow “peace and justice,” insisting on the need to avoid “a new escalation.”

According to his statement, the Patriarchate believes that the Pontiff’s response was “correctly summarized” by the March 16 communiqué after their video meeting. That note stressed “the exceptional importance of the negotiation process underway.”

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