The Russian Orthodox Church hit back at the Vatican this week after Pope Francis told an Italian newspaper that Patriarch Kirill should not “transform himself into Putin’s altar boy” amid the invasion of Ukraine.
“Pope Francis chose the wrong tone,” the Russian Orthodox Church said in a statement on Wednesday. “Such statements are unlikely to contribute to the establishment of a constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, which is especially needed at the present time.”
The Pope recalled during an interview with the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper that half of a 40-minute conversation he had with Patriarch Kirill in March consisted of the Russian Orthodox Church leader reading off “all the justifications for the war.”
Kirill, a longtime supporter of Putin, has echoed the Russian president’s justifications for the war in sermons and placed the blame on NATO.
“Patriarch Kirill recalled that at the end of the Soviet era, Russia received an assurance that NATO would not move an inch eastwards. However, this promise was broken, even the former Soviet Baltic republics joined NATO,” the Russian Orthodox Church said Wednesday. “Russia could not and cannot allow this to happen.”
Despite their disagreements, Pope Francis also partially blamed NATO, telling the Italian newspaper this week that the “barking of NATO at Russia’s door” may have forced Putin to invade.
“An anger that I don’t know if you can say was provoked, but maybe facilitated,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis met with Kirill in-person in Cuba six years ago, marking the first time that a pontiff has met with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism nearly a millennium ago.