Vatican is ambiguous about meeting Moscow


Southern Europe

Russian Patriarch Kirill (l.) and Pope Francis (r.). Photo AFP, Adalberto Roque

The Vatican's ecumenical cardinal accuses Russia's Patriarch Kirill of heresy. Pope Francis stands behind these words. Although Rome's patience with Kirill seems to have run out, some sources report that the Pope would want to visit Moscow and Kyiv soon.

In an exclusive interview with the Catholic German daily Die Tagespost, Cardinal Koch said that intra-Orthodox tensions are behind the current situation in Ukraine. "But it would be pathetic if they led to the terrible war in Ukraine or were used to justify it. Because church conflicts must never be resolved with violence."

The Pope's ecumenical officer expressed explicit criticism of the Moscow Patriarchate. The pseudo-religious justification of the war by Patriarch Cyril must shake every ecumenical heart. From a Christian point of view, one cannot justify a war of aggression, but at most, under certain conditions, defence against an unjust attacker." According to Koch, downplaying Putin's brutal war of aggression to a "special operation" is a misuse of language. "I have to condemn this as an absolutely impossible position."

Koch also pointed out that the conflict between Constantinople and Moscow - which is really about who gets to play first fiddle in Orthodoxy, the oldest (Constantinople) or the biggest (Moscow) - is also doing ecumenism a lot of harm.


Koch's remarks coincided with an Orthodox delegation visit to the Vatican as part of the "traditional exchange of delegations for the respective feasts of the Patron Saints: June 29th in Rome for the celebration of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and November 30th in Istanbul for the celebration of St. Andrew the Apostle."

During this meeting, Pope Francis said that "armed conquest, expansionism and imperialism have nothing to do with the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed". According to an analysis in the Christian Dutch daily Nederlands Dagblad, that is "just another way of branding Kirill's vision as heresy.

Given Kirill's statements in this war, Cardinal Koch believes that another meeting between the Pope and the head of Russian Orthodoxy is out of the question: "If a renewed meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch took place at a moment when acts of war were still ongoing or were to take place, and Patriarch Kirill persisted in his untenable justification of war, it would be exposed to serious misunderstandings.


Yet, Pope Francis said in an interview with press agency Reuters that he hopes to be able to go to Moscow and Kyiv as soon as possible after a trip to Canada, which is planned from July 24th until July 30th. Francis noted there had been contacts between Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a possible trip to Moscow.

When the Vatican press asked about a trip several months ago, Francis said Moscow replied that it was not the right time. But he hinted that something may now have changed.

The Pope said he would like to go to Ukraine but wanted to visit Moscow first. He would do this to "serve the cause of peace".