February 11, 2016

Putin may benefit from meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

Print More
Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcomed by bishop Georg Ganswein as he arrives for a private audience with Pope Francis, in Vatican City on June 10, 2015. The United States urged the Vatican on Wednesday to criticise Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict more forcefully, hours before Pope Francis was due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-PUTIN-VATICAN, originally transmitted on June 11, 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcomed by bishop Georg Ganswein as he arrives for a private audience with Pope Francis, in Vatican City on June 10, 2015. The United States urged the Vatican on Wednesday to criticise Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict more forcefully, hours before Pope Francis was due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-PUTIN-VATICAN, originally transmitted on June 11, 2015.

VATICAN CITY/MOSCOW (Reuters) A meeting between Pope Francis and Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Friday (Feb. 12) could not happen without a green light from President Vladimir Putin, diplomats and analysts say, and he may be one the beneficiaries.

In a landmark step toward healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, the two religious leaders will meet in Havana on the pope’s way to Mexico.

“There is no doubt the Kremlin took part in making this decision,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and former Kremlin adviser in Moscow. “Otherwise the meeting would not have happened.”

Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church, making Friday’s two-hour private meeting not just a religious event but politically charged as well, especially when Russia is at odds with the West over Ukraine and Syria.

“Putin clearly sees the value of his relationship with the ROC and the ROC’s relationship with the pope,” said a diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“He understands the pope is a big player on the world stage and I think that he would be happy about having the possibility of using the improved relations between the Vatican and the ROC to get the Kremlin’s view across to the Vatican,” he said.

Alexander Volkov, Russian church spokesman, said that while a joint declaration will dwell on the Middle East’s persecuted Christians, tensions between Russia and the West may be brought up in the talks.

“This is one of the burning issues and we can assume it will be reflected in the dialogue. It can’t be ruled out,” he said.

Relations between Moscow and the Vatican have improved steadily since the reign of Pope John Paul II, a Pole who had an inbred suspicion of Russia and who died in 2005. But Francis is an Argentinian with no historical baggage associated with the East-West divisions of Europe after World War II.

In 2013, Moscow was pleased after Francis opposed a proposed U.S.-led military intervention in Syria, a key Russian ally.

Last year, Catholics in Ukraine accused Francis of being soft with Moscow when he described violence in Eastern Ukraine as “fratricidal.” They saw it as a product of foreign aggression.

One commentator said Francis’ view was perhaps “blurred by ecumenical correctness” in the hopes of a meeting with Kirill.

In an interview with Reuters, Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican office for Christian unity, was noncommittal when asked if the meeting could help Putin. “I think Putin agrees with the meeting, but I can’t say more,” he said.

Russia’s ambassador to the Vatican, Alexander Avdeyev, said the two churches organized the meeting but that it could “help politicians and diplomats” with policy decisions.

“The two churches clearly understood that all threats and challenges in the world threaten both of them and cooperation has to be stepped up to fight nationalism and terrorism,” he told Reuters.

The meeting, which will put another historic notch on Francis’ legacy, came after two years of secret contacts in Rome, Moscow and Havana, Vatican and diplomatic sources said.

Agreement was clinched last autumn, but the ROC wanted to keep it under wraps for several more months, one Vatican source said.

The Russian Church had long accused Catholics of trying to convert people from Orthodoxy after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The Vatican denied the charges, and both sides say that issue has largely been resolved.

One sore point remains the fate of church properties that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin confiscated from Eastern rite Catholics in Ukraine and gave to the Russian Orthodox there. After the fall of communism, Eastern rite Catholics took back many church properties, mostly in western Ukraine.

The meeting was brokered by Cuban President Raul Castro, who hosted the pope in Cuba last year. The Vatican helped arrange the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.

(Reuters)

  • Betty Clermont

    TWO balanced articles in one day from RNS about this pope? Some kind of dam has broken. TIMES and the New York Times also have negative articles today about the pope. Better late than never.

  • John P. S.

    The meeting between the Pope and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch is for ecumenical purposes in the light of almost 1000 years of separation from 1054. The eventual political fallout is collateral (damage?), so to say, as the Church is thirsting for unity and is geared to amend the past misunderstandings. Please do not politicize it as if it is purely a secular agenda!
    John P. S.

  • Louis Ferdinand Friedrich Karl Freiherr von Wetzler

    Half of what is Ukraine in our time was part of the Habsburg monarchy. Most of those citizens are Catholics, from the Western rite or the Eastern one. Even today, during my visits to Ukraine, with the aim to fine those domains that until 1919 were from my mother’s family. In many towns and cities, I saw pictures and portraits of the last two Kings and Emperors of Austria Hungary, Franz Joseph and the Blessed Kaiser Karl I of Austria and IV Apostolic King of Hungary. Those lands were part of Saint Stephen Crown for ages, the Russians annexed after World War II, and part of them were annexed to Romania. I find hard to believe that those Catholic Ukrainians will accept anything from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is a mere instrument of Putin and less from Patriarch Kirill, who was in the payroll of the KGB for years, where he met Putin, who as everybody knows, is another “former” KGB officer. I am related to many Russian, Hungarian and Polish noble families, that were victims of…

  • Pingback: The Whole Story of Pope Francis’ Interview: Anti-women, Anti-gay, Contempt for Sex Abuse Victims, Support for Putin, Refusal to Face the Argentines and US Politics | The Open Tabernacle: Here Comes Everybody()