EU reportedly mulling sanctions on Patriarch Kirill

On Tuesday, Patriarch Kirill denied that Russia’s actions in Ukraine amounted to an invasion, insisting ‘Russia has never attacked anyone.’

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, center, welcomes relics of St. Spyridon, bishop of Trimythous, from Corfu, Greece, during a service at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow on Sept. 21, 2018. (Igor Palkin, Russian Orthodox Church Press Service via AP)

(RNS) — The European Union is reportedly considering the prospect of imposing sanctions on Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, as part of a larger package designed to weaken Russia in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to CNN, the prominent cleric is among the list of names set to appear in a proposed sixth round of European Union sanctions. The draft, which also includes a possible ban on Russian oil, is under review by EU ambassadors, meaning names can still be added or removed.

Pressure on Kirill has been mounting for months due to his support for Russia’s invasion and for laying the spiritual groundwork for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in the region.

Since the invasion began, Kirill has decried Russia’s enemies in Ukraine as “evil forces” and preached a sermon framing the invasion as part of a larger “metaphysical” battle against Western ideology, which the patriarch said has been forced on other nations through a vanguard of “gay parades.”

RELATED: How Putin’s invasion became a holy war for Russia

On Tuesday (May 3), Kirill denied that Russia’s actions constituted an invasion at all, declaring during a worship service that “Russia has never attacked anyone.”

“It is amazing that a great and powerful country never attacked anyone — it only defended its borders,” he added.

His rhetoric has sparked dissent in the ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church and triggered calls to expel the ROC from the World Council of Churches. Pope Francis also confronted Kirill during a recent meeting convened on Zoom, warning the cleric not to become “Putin’s altar boy.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Unity Day, Nov. 4, 2016, in Moscow. Photo courtesy of the Kremlin/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Unity Day, Nov. 4, 2016, in Moscow. Photo courtesy of the Kremlin/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Meanwhile, others have called for governments to step in and sanction Kirill directly. In an editorial published in The Times, Hanna Hopko, former head of the Ukrainian Parliament’s committee on foreign affairs, said she personally pressed U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a visit to Washington last month to sanction Kirill.

RELATED: World Council of Churches faces calls to expel Russian Orthodox Church

“The West must send a powerful signal that anyone — including those purporting to serve God — who facilitates the godless actions of Russian forces in Ukraine will not go unpunished,” she wrote. “(Kirill) is manifestly a Putin stooge, and his lifestyle and assets should be targeted accordingly.”

Representatives for Pelosi did not immediately respond to questions about Kirill, but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the prospect of sanctioning the faith leader during a press conference on Wednesday.

“I would say no one is safe from our sanctions — we’re continuing to review options, but I don’t have any to preview today,” Psaki told reporters.

CNN, citing a state-run Russian news agency, said representatives for the ROC decried the proposed sanctions as lacking “common sense.”

“Only those completely ignorant of the history of our Church can seek to intimidate its clergy and believers by compiling some lists,” church spokesperson Vladimir Legoida said via the messaging app Telegram.

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