Francis’s failure to condemn Moscow as aggressor decried as ‘shameful’ and ‘incomprehensible’

Angelique Chrisafis

10 March 2024

The Guardian


The Ukrainian government has responded angrily and vowed never to surrender after Pope Francis said the country should have “the courage to raise the white flag” and negotiate an end to the war with Russia. “Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said on social media on Sunday.

Politicians and commentators in Europe expressed outrage after the pontiff gave an interview in which he appeared to stay silent on Russia’s crimes as aggressor in the invasion and placed the onus on Ukraine to make peace.

Kuleba called on Francis to stand “on the side of good” and not put Russia and Ukraine “on the same footing and call it ‘negotiations’”.

He also appeared to refer to collaboration between some of the Catholic church and Nazi forces during the second world war: “At the same time, when it comes to the white flag, we know this Vatican strategy from the first half of the 20th century. I urge to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to support Ukraine and its people in their just struggle for their lives.”

The Latvian president, Edgars Rinkēvičs, wrote on X: “My Sunday morning take: One must not capitulate in [the] face of evil. One must fight it and defeat it, so that the evil raises the white flag and capitulates.”

Dennis Radtke, a German Christian Democrat MEP, said the word “shameful” could be used to describe the pope’s comments. “His stance on Ukraine reflects poorly on his pontificate. It is incomprehensible,” he posted on X.

Anton Gerashchenko, a blogger and former adviser to Ukraine’s internal affairs ministry, wrote on X: “It does seem strange that the pope doesn’t urge to defend Ukraine, doesn’t condemn Russia as an aggressor who killed tens of thousands of people, doesn’t urge Putin to stop, but calls on Ukraine to raise the white flag instead. Do all his Cardinals share this position?”

The Polish foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski, wrote on X: “How about, for balance, encouraging Putin to have the courage to withdraw his army from Ukraine? Peace would immediately ensue without the need for negotiations.”

Alexandra Valkenburg, the head of the EU delegation to the Holy See, said on X: “Russia started an illegal and unjustified war against Ukraine two years ago”, adding that Russia “can end this

war immediately by respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. She said the EU supported Ukraine and its peace plan.

In an interview broadcast on Saturday by Swiss television, but which the Vatican said was conducted in February, the pontiff urged parties in the Ukraine war to “have the courage to negotiate”, and do so “before things get worse”.

The 87-year-old pope was asked by the public broadcaster RTS about a debate within Ukraine on whether to surrender to Russia’s invasion. “I believe that the strongest are those who see the situation, think about the people, and have the courage to raise the white flag and negotiate,” he said. “That word negotiate is a brave word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not working out, to have the courage to negotiate.”

Ukrainians, Francis said, should not be afraid to negotiate a peace deal before the situation deteriorates further. “Today, for example with the war in Ukraine, there are many who want to act as mediators. Turkey, for example. Don’t be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.”

Speaking about conflict in general, including the Israel-Gaza war, Francis said: “Negotiations are never a surrender. It is the courage not to carry a country to suicide.”

The Vatican’s director of communications, Matteo Bruni, issued a statement seeking to clarify the pope’s words. He said Francis had used the term white flag “to indicate a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached with the courage of negotiation”. He repeated the pontiff’s call for a “diplomatic solution in search of a just and lasting peace” in what Francis called the “martyred” Ukraine.

Pope Francis has urged Ukraine to find courage and agree to negotiations. He told that to Swiss RSI TV and radio company in an interview that will come out on March 20th.

If Pope Francis lived in 1940, he would probably suggest that Great Britain surrender, lay down its arms in front of Germany and negotiate with Hitler.


Angelique Chrisafis is the Guardian’s Paris correspondent.