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After controversy, Vatican Media defends the pope’s interventions on Ukraine

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Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 08/30/22

Controversy among Ukrainian Catholics erupted after Pope Francis's allusion to the death of the young Russian Daria Dugina.

The interventions of Pope Francis on the war in Ukraine are those of a “voice that rises in defense of human life,” not “a political position,” says the Holy See in a statement issued on August 30. The explanation comes a few days after the statement of Pope Francis on the death of Daria Dugina, which had caused controversy among Ukrainian Catholic intellectuals.

The brief message assures the faithful that the interventions of the pope regarding “the large-scale war in Ukraine, initiated by the Russian Federation” are “clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant, and sacrilegious.”

“Every word was carefully weighed,” insists a Vatican source contacted by I.MEDIA, who emphasizes the strength of the terms used by the communiqué. “It is the first time that it is said in such a clear way,” the source insists, explaining that the purpose of this intervention was above all to “clarify the position of the Holy See” on the Ukrainian issue.

The controversy around Daria Dugina

On August 24, during the general audience, Pope Francis had deplored the death of Daria Dugina, without explicitly naming her, referring to a “poor girl blown up by a bomb that was under the seat of her car in Moscow.” The remark, which accompanied the pontiff’s “umpteenth” condemnation of the conflict, provoked a major controversy, as the head of the Catholic Church seemed to ignore the fact that the young Russian woman was a nationalist activist advocating for Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and all Slavic territories, and thus a stakeholder in the ongoing war.

The next day, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbocas, was summoned by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba to explain the meaning of the pope’s words in memory of the Russian activist.

Without explicitly quoting the statement of Pope Francis on Daria Dugina, the Holy See assures that it has taken note of the “public discussions” on “the political meaning” of these interventions.

Vatican News, the official media service of the Holy See, links a press release and the statement of Pope Francis on Daria Dugina. Vatican News explains that the Holy Father had expressed in the same speech his sadness about the death of innocent Russian and Ukrainian children, calling to silence the noise of weapons in Ukraine.

A pastor, not a politician

In its statement, the Holy See insists that the “numerous” interventions of the pontiff and his collaborators on the war in Ukraine are intended “to invite pastors and the faithful to prayer, and all people of good will to solidarity and efforts to rebuild peace.”

“The pope spoke as a pastor, not as a politician,” a Vatican source told I.MEDIA. The anonymous source stresses the consistency of the pope’s position: “He is against the death penalty; he condemns the killing of any kind; and he condemns the death of a young woman murdered in a car, regardless of her political views.”

Change of tone

“There is a change of tone in this statement,” said the Vatican source, emphasizing the explicit and clear condemnation of Russia’s responsibility in the war. For her, the Holy See now recognizes the failure of its attempt to “pick up the pieces” with Russia and especially with Patriarch Kirill, who was to meet with Pope Francis in Kazakhstan during an interfaith summit organized from 13 to 15 September but canceled his participation. “The Holy See can now say things more clearly,” she said.

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