Vatican Walks Back Francis' Praise for 'Russian Empire'

Objections to unscripted remarks come from Ukraine, Eastern Rite archbishop
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 28, 2023 7:05 PM CDT
Updated Aug 29, 2023 10:40 AM CDT
Pope Hears About Praise for 'Enlightened Russian Empire'
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
UPDATE Aug 29, 2023 10:40 AM CDT

The Vatican is walking back Pope Francis' words on Russia, while Moscow is walking them forward. As the Wall Street Journal reports, a Vatican rep had this to say about the pontiff's glowing words for Russia's past: "The pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in Russia's great cultural and spiritual heritage, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and ruling figures." The Kremlin, however, says this: "The pope knows Russian history, and this is very good." Russia is trying "to bring this legacy to our youth, to remind them of it. And that the Pope speaks in unison with these efforts is very gratifying." ABC News notes that the Vatican's reaction came after "Ukraine's Greek Catholic leader, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, bitterly complained about Francis' remarks."

Aug 28, 2023 7:05 PM CDT

Pope Francis has drawn criticism for his interpretation of Russia's past and present in a speech to young people, in which he urged them to carry on the legacy of their nation's imperialist empire. In a video speech to young Russian Catholics meeting in St. Petersburg, Francis said, "You are the heirs of the great Mother Russia, go forward with it," Politico Europe reports. He spoke of "the great Russia of saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, of that great, enlightened Russian empire, of great culture and great humanity."

Ukraine called the remarks "deeply regrettable," per Reuters. The pope has criticized Russia's invasion but also sent mixed signals about blame. "This is truly revolting," former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves posted online. The head of Ukraine's Eastern Rite Catholic Church asked the Vatican for an explanation. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk expressed concern that the speech could "inspire the neo-colonial ambitions of the aggressor country." In other parts of his speech, Francis implored Russian youths to be "artisans of peace" and "sow seeds of reconciliations."

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The disputed content came after the pope changed to speaking in Italian after reading a prepared speech Friday in Spanish, per Reuters. When the Vatican released the text of his speech the next day, it did not include the praise for the Russian Empire. The pope's off-the-cuff comments about Russia have caused a stir before. In 2022, Francis called Darya Dugina, a Russian ultra-nationalist killed by a car bomb, an innocent victim of war. That remark had "broken Ukraine's heart," its foreign minister said at the time. (More Pope Francis stories.)

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