In the ongoing war over Ukraine, the Catholic Church has played a similar role to the one played by Germany.
In 2013, Russia prepared to invade Ukraine for the first time. Many expected Pope Francis to speak out against Vladimir Putin and the war, because he speaks loudly on causes he is passionate about, and Ukraine’s Catholics are overwhelmingly pro-European. Instead, the news media were left to puzzle over his silence.
In 2015, as tension over Ukraine worsened, Putin traveled to the Vatican and met with the pope. Did these two come to some kind of agreement? Putin puts a lot of stock in what the pope says. “The Kremlin sees the Vatican as a multidimensional power—bigger, in some ways, than what Russia considers ‘the West,’” wrote Anna Nemtsova in the Daily Beast (Feb. 13, 2016). Foreign Affairs noted that the pope has “patiently cultivated” a strong relationship with Putin.
When the pope did make a rare speech on the Ukrainian situation in 2015, he did not describe the conflict as a Russian invasion. Instead, he called it “fratricidal violence,” echoing Putin’s portrayal of the conflict as a civil war. When a Catholic archbishop rejected that description, Francis told the Ukrainian clergy to stay out of politics! Other Catholic officials who opposed the pope’s talking points were transferred to other countries.
In contrast, Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, publicly thanked the Vatican for its position on Ukraine. He said that those lower Catholic authorities who had spoken out had made “extremely politicized statements, which did not help end the civil confrontation. I would like to note with satisfaction that the Holy See itself has always pursued a balanced stance toward the situation in Ukraine and has avoided any lopsided assessments, but has called for peace talks and an end to armed clashes.”
In late 2021 and early 2022, the possibility of Putin drastically expanding the war in Ukraine stirred up a renewed flurry of Vatican-Moscow diplomacy. In a Dec. 17, 2021, birthday telegraph to the pope, Putin wrote, “It is hard to overestimate your personal contribution to the development of relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, and to the strengthening of the Russian-Vatican ties. I am certain that, with our joint efforts, we will be able to do a lot to protect the rights and interests of the Christians and to ensure the multiconfessional [or interfaith] dialogue.”
Earlier in the month, Francis had said that “a meeting with Patriarch Kirill is not far on the horizon.” Russia has the largest population of Eastern Orthodox Christians and, by some counts, the second-largest Christian denomination. Has Putin promised some kind of restoration between the Russian Orthodox Church and Rome in exchange for the pope supporting his war in Ukraine?
Ukrainian Catholics have grown frustrated with the pope’s response to the invasion and his reluctance to speak out for them. As part of Easter celebrations, the Vatican had a Ukrainian woman and a Russian woman carry a cross together. The pope continued his refusal to criticize Russia. He indicated instead that both sides shared blame, and portrayed the Russians as not only aggressors but also partially victims of Ukrainian aggression. Sviatoslav Shevchuk, a Catholic Ukrainian Greek archbishop, condemned the pope’s words and actions as “incomprehensible and even offensive.” Yurii Pidlisnyi at the Ukrainian Catholic University said the pope’s position “looks like a sacrifice of truth for the illusory profit of Ostpolitik.”
People are wondering if, like Germany, the Vatican has done or is trying to do a deal with Russia.
Regardless, the way Germany and the Vatican have taken the same position on the Ukraine war is extremely concerning. German strongmen and the Vatican have a long history of working together in what has been called the Holy Roman Empire. This empire has a bloody history. And Bible prophecy warns that we are about to see it resurrected, powered by great wealth, a large population and modern weapons of mass destruction.