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Pope backs peace in Ukraine, avoids criticism of Russia, in meeting with country's bishops

February 20, 2015

Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with the people affected by continued violence in Ukraine, but stopped short of condemning Russian-backed separatists, in meetings with the country’s bishops on February 20.

In a prepared statement that was distributed to all the Ukrainian bishops, the Pope lamented the conflict that “continues to claim many innocent victims and to cause great suffering to the entire population.” However, breaking from his prepared text, he said that he is pained by calls for the “defeat” of rebels or a “victory” for Ukrainian independence. “Those are not the right word,” the Pope said. “The only right word is peace.”

In his statement the Pope said:

In this period I am particularly close to you in my prayers for the deceased and for all those who have been afflicted by violence, with my plea that the Lord might grant peace soon, and with my appeal to all interested parties to implement joint agreements and to respect the principle of international law, and especially to observe the recently signed armistice and all other commitments that are conditions for avoiding a resumption of hostilities.

The Pope said that the bishops, as citizens, have every right to express their opinions on the country’s difficulties. But he said they should speak out “not in the sense of promoting concrete political action, but in the indication and reaffirmation of the values that constitute the binding element of Ukrainian society.”

The Pope’s insistence on peace negotiations, and the absence of any affirmation of Ukrainian independence, was undoubtedly a disappointment to some Ukrainian prelates, notably including those of the Byzantine-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church. In earlier meetings with the Secretariat of State, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev had said that the first duty of Church leaders is to tell the truth about the conflict, which he has characterized as an invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. “This is what the citizens of Ukraine expect today from the Holy See as the highest moral authority,” the Ukrainian prelate said.

Pope Francis held separate audiences for the Ukrainian bishops of the Roman rite and those of the Byzantine rite. All of the bishops received the same written statement, however.

In that statement the Pope alluded to conflicts between the two Catholic rites, saying that he was “personally saddened to hear that there are incomprehensions and that harm has been done.” He reminded them: “Whether Greek-Catholics or Latins, you are sons of the Catholic Church, which has been subject to martyrdom in your land too.”


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  • Posted by: Gregory108 - Feb. 21, 2015 1:45 PM ET USA

    It would seem to me that Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, who lives in Ukraine, and his counterpart,the Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church not controlled by Moscow, who also lives in Ukraine, would know better than anyone what happened in Ukraine. Both of them seem to feel that this was a foreign invasion! Either both of them are patriots or both are crooks. I favor their being patriots and take their word over Putin's!

  • Posted by: Gregory108 - Feb. 21, 2015 2:58 AM ET USA

    Boy,this is really sad! Your country's invaded by a foreign army,posing as "rebels," killing your citizens and functionally outlawing the Catholic Church. The West, which promised to defend you when you gave up your nukes, does nothing for you except send meals ready to eat and blankets. And even the Pope turns his back on you by, in essence, telling "both sides to restrain themselves." This will go over well with Putin, but the Ukrainian nation will remember this! Tell the truth, Pope Francis!

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Feb. 20, 2015 9:02 PM ET USA

    Unlike most Americans, Pope Francis is aware of the facts as to what happened in Ukraine.