11 May 2022, The Tablet

Pope Francis criticised for questioning Nato and weapons sales

In a newspaper interview Francis stated that "the production and the sale of armaments is a disgrace".

Pope Francis criticised for questioning Nato and weapons sales

People receive bread during the distribution of humanitarian aid in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 8.
CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters

The Pope has urged all Church leaders to continue opposing the war in Ukraine as a threat to world peace, after expressing uncertainty about Western arms supplies to Ukraine and suggesting a degree of shared Nato responsibility for hostilities.

In an interview last week with Italy’s Corriere della Sera, he suggested Nato might have been provocative by “barking at Russia’s door” and was equivocal about Western countries supplying “Ukrainian fighters” with weapons.

I don’t know if it is the right thing to supply the Ukrainian fighters,” he said. “What seems indisputable is that both sides are trying out new weapons … The production and the sale of armaments is a disgrace, but few are bold enough to stand up against it.”

In a statement, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry thanked Francis for his efforts to “establish a just peace”, but recalled that “the only culprit for the war” was Russia. The government in neighbouring Poland said the Holy See’s current position appeared “contrary to Polish national interests”, while a prominent Dominican priest, Fr Pawel Guzynski, told the mass-circulation Gazeta Wyborcza daily the Pope's position could be compared to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s.

Addressing the plenary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on 6 May, Francis remarked that despite the horrors of other wars, the Ukraine conflict was different. “This war, cruel and senseless like every war, has a greater dimension and threatens the entire world, and cannot but question the conscience of every Christian and every Church,” he said. “We must ask ourselves: what have Churches done, and what can they do?”

Francis spoke ahead of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations on Monday, which were marked by mass military displays in Moscow and other cities. In his address in Moscow’s Red Square President Vladimir Putin reiterated his claim that Russia was responding to Nato threats when it launched its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

“Last December we proposed signing a treaty on security guarantees … All in vain. Nato countries did not want to heed us, which means they had totally different plans. And we saw it … Russia launched a pre-emptive strike at the aggression.”

The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said the war had so far left more than 100 mostly Orthodox churches destroyed and up to 15 million Ukrainians displaced or seeking refuge abroad, but had also “united religious communities as never before”.

“Ukraine continues to fight, protecting the world with its great victims and surprising it with its heroism and resilience,” Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych said in a message on Sunday. “We are praying for peace because we need victory not just in war, but over war and the spirit of war – so those who plan war and seek to spread it will be removed from the world community.”

Meanwhile, Russia's Orthodox Church questioned the Pope’s account of his 16 March online conversation with Patriarch Kirill, during which he said he had urged Kirill not to “lower himself to becoming Putin's altar boy”. A Moscow Patriarchate statement said: “It is regrettable Pope Francis chose the wrong tone to convey the content of this conversation. Such utterances can hardly further constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, so necessary at the current time.”

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