Meanwhile, Pope Francis resists oversimplification of conflict.
The conference of Catholic bishops in Russia has issued a statement calling Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine a “harsh confrontation” that “threatens the existence of the whole world.”
Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization to bolster his war efforts in Ukraine, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia issued an appeal in which it said the “special military operation” has produced “thousands of victims” and “undermined trust and unity between countries.”
“The harsh confrontation in Ukraine has degenerated into a large-scale military conflict that has already caused thousands of victims, has undermined trust and unity between countries and peoples and threatens the existence of the whole world,” said the statement, published Wednesday and signed by Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Latin Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference.
The Latin Catholic bishops in the country, who number a mere five, appealed for peace.
Since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government has clamped down on anti-war protests in Russia. Even calling the “special military operation” a war could put someone in jail.
Putin’s recent call-up of military reservists has been met with popular protests and a mass exodus of men from the country who are not willing to go fight in Ukraine.
“We wish to follow the teaching of the Church, according to the Gospel and the Tradition of the ancient Church: War has never been nor will it be a means of solving problems between nations,” said the bishops’ appeal, quoting Pope Pius XII, who in 1939 declared, “Nothing is to be lost with peace, everything can be lost with war.”
They also quote Pope Francis, who said at a Mass he celebrated in Kazakhstan on September 14:
“May we never grow accustomed to war, or resigned to its inevitability. Let us come to the aid of those who suffer and insist that genuine efforts be made to achieve peace. What still needs to happen, and how many deaths will it still take, before conflict yields to dialogue for the good of people, nations and all humanity? The one solution is peace and the only way to arrive at peace is through dialogue.”
The Russian bishops’ conference allows that governments sometimes have to defend themselves militarily, and that citizens called on to fight should fulfill their duty as long as their conscience discerns that military action is justifiable. They quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2302-2317), which admits recourse to war for legitimate defense and only in the event that certain conditions occur.
In contrast to a government announcement on September 25 that conscientious objectors will not have the option to perform community service instead of taking up arms, the bishops say in their statement that the Russian Constitution protects conscientious objectors.
Their appeal also states that bishops’ participation in war is prohibited by the tradition of the Church and by the international conventions.
The document concludes with an appeal to all Catholics in Russia to pray and fast for peace and for priests to offer Mass with specific prayers for the same intention.
Pope: War is complicated
Meanwhile, a transcript of a conversation between Pope Francis and Jesuits in Russia and other countries has been released, revealing more about the pope’s attitude toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“There is a war going on and I think it is a mistake to think that this is a cowboy movie where there are good guys and bad guys,” Francis said September 15, in a meeting he held during his apostolic journey to Kazakhstan. “It is also a mistake to think that this is a war between Russia and Ukraine and no more. No, this is a world war.”
The Jesuit pope has regularly met with fellow members of the Society of Jesus during his overseas travels. This meeting was with Jesuits working in the Russian Region of the Society of Jesus, specifically in Russia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan.
His comments echoed previous statements that have questioned the narrative that the blame for the Ukraine invasion should be laid totally at Moscow’s feet. He said that it is not that cut-and-dried.
“One has to investigate the dynamics that developed the conflict,” he said. “There are international factors that contributed to provoking the war. I have already mentioned that a head of state, in December last year, came to tell me that he was very concerned because NATO had gone barking at the gates of Russia without understanding that the Russians are imperial and fear border insecurity. He expressed fear that this would provoke a war, and this broke out two months later.”
As Russia was mounting a military build-up along Ukraine’s borders throughout 2021 and early 2022, Putin expressed his concern that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had expanded to countries closer and closer to Russia. He specifically sought assurances that Ukraine would not join the Alliance.
“So, one cannot be simplistic in reasoning about the causes of the conflict. I see imperialisms in conflict,” the pontiff continued. “And, when they feel threatened and in decline, the imperialisms react, thinking that the solution is to unleash a war to make up for it, and also to sell and test weapons.”
Again, Francis expressed his view that “we are already living through World War III,” an idea he has proposed for the past few years.
In spite of the pope’s allusion to the conversation with the unnamed “head of state,” he insisted that the “victim” of the present conflict is Ukraine. He reminded his listeners that in the past he has called the invasion of Ukraine an “unacceptable, repugnant, senseless, barbaric, sacrilegious aggression.”
He appeals for Ukraine at nearly every public address.