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Pope Francis Waves a White Flag at Vladimir Putin – George Weigel / WSJ

Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 6. Photo: Evandro Inetti/Zuma Press
In urging the victim to yield to the aggressor, he repudiates centuries of Catholic teaching. Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, March 6. Photo: Evandro Inetti/Zuma Press

By George Weigel

The leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church visited Washington this month to make the case for continued U.S. aid to their beleaguered but unbroken country. The bishops used rational arguments for national self-defense that drew on just-war theory, the ancient tradition of Christian moral realism that first took systematic form with St. Augustine in the fifth century. Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halyč and Archbishop Borys Gudziak—the head of the Ukrainian church and its senior U.S. prelate, respectively—also explained why Russia’s defeat in Ukraine is essential to peace in Europe and vital to the American interest.

Shortly after these serious adult conversations took place, Pope Francis erupted in another off-the-cuff interview, instructing Ukraine to have the “courage” to seize the “white flag” and negotiate with Russia: “When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate.”

In the interview, there was evidently no papal call to Russia to cease its aggression, which has cost tens of thousands of Ukrainian lives and done a trillion dollars worth of damage. There was no papal demand that Catholics be allowed to worship freely in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories, where Catholic rites are now banned. There was no papal insistence that Russia release the tens of thousands of kidnapped Ukrainian children who are being “re-educated.” There was no papal condemnation of Russian war crimes in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol and elsewhere. Nor did the pope denounce the Russian Orthodox Church’s relentless campaign of disinformation in support of Vladimir Putin’s war.

Pope Francis seemed wholly unaware of the carefully reasoned, just-war-informed statement the Ukrainian episcopate had issued a few days before the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion, in which the bishops summoned their people to continued sacrifice in defense of their freedom and sovereignty. The bishops also noted that Russia’s violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum the Kremlin had signed—in which Ukraine surrendered its nuclear weapons in exchange for guarantees of its territorial integrity—made any thought of “negotiations” with Mr. Putin’s regime risible. By contrast, the pope seemed to place the entire burden of finding a path to peace on the victim, not the aggressor.

Moral myopia of such severity should be beneath the dignity of the papacy. Yet the fecklessness Pope Francis urged on Ukraine is of a piece with his own practice of raising white flags when dealing with thuggish regimes. That weakness is most prominently embodied in the pope’s dealings with Mr. Putin’s “dear friend,” Xi Jinping. Thanks to the Vatican’s 2018 deal with Beijing and its subsequent extensions, the Communist Party exercises de facto control over the appointment of Catholic bishops in China.

Throughout Francis’ pontificate, Catholic progressives have lobbied for a papal repudiation of the just-war tradition as the normative Catholic method of moral analysis in facing the ethical challenges of international politics. Such a repudiation is impossible. The just-war tradition is so deeply rooted in both reason and revelation that a flat-out rejection of it would be akin to heresy.

To be sure, the tradition requires development to deal with new weapons technologies—including drone warfare—cyberwar, terrorism and nonstate aggressors. Unfortunately, the Vatican has been lax in facilitating the development of moral reasoning about the legitimate use of force, preferring to engage in “dialogue” with those calling for the sections on just war to be eliminated from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A string of papal malapropisms in the past decade has also made it less likely that statesmen will look to the Vatican for guidance in navigating the wilderness of mirrors that is the new world disorder.

Francis’s pontificate parallels the deterioration of moral reasoning about world politics throughout the leadership of mainline Protestant denominations. A year before the 80th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, judicially murdered for resisting the Nazis’ perpetration and conduct of World War II, Christian leaders throughout the West wallow in a gelatinous liberal internationalism: unable to recognize the imperative of militarily deterring aggressive regimes, bewitched by the notion that weapons cause wars, incapable of grasping that totalitarians advance with genocidal purpose.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops are an exception. They stood in a line of theological continuity with St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Bonhoeffer and other Christian realists when, in a March 10 response to the papal call to raise the white flag, they declared that “Ukrainians cannot surrender because surrender means death.”

“Ukrainians will continue to defend themselves,” they wrote, because “recent history has demonstrated that with Putin there will be no true negotiations.” Any agreement with a dictator who has denied Ukraine’s nationhood wouldn’t be “worth the paper on which it is written.” Russia’s goal, as Mr. Putin has stated, is the eradication of Ukraine. Ukraine’s aim, the bishops declared, is the defense of “freedom and dignity to achieve a peace that is just.”

That is the appropriate Christian moral response to lethal aggression. Waving the white flag in the face of evil not only begets more evil; it betrays a millennium and a half of Christian tradition in the process.


George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author, most recently, of “To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II.” EnergiesNet.com does not necessarily share these views.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on March 13 2024. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.

Original article

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EnergiesNet.com 03 20 2024

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