Zelensky's right about the UN, says ... Pope Francis?

Alessandra Tarantino/AP

It doesn’t take a fierce patriot under heavy fire to recognize the futility of the United Nations at its basic task of keeping international peace. Today, Pope Francis echoed Volodymyr Zelensky’s criticism of the UN Security Council this morning, calling UN organizations “impotent” while demanding peace.


In his strongest statement yet on behalf of Ukraine, the pontiff held up its national flag from the “martyred” city of Bucha and welcomed children from the country Russia is ravaging:

Crux’ Inés San Martin reports on Francis’ rebuke to the UN, more explicit than his condemnation of Russia:

Pope Francis on Wednesday said that the international organizations, such as the United Nations, have proven to be useless in stopping violence and atrocities in the war in Ukraine.

Speaking about the massacres in the recently freed city of Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, the pope denounced the “increasingly horrendous cruelties [that] are also committed against civilians and defenseless children. They are victims whose innocent blood cries out to the heavens and implores: Put an end to this war, silence the weapons, stop sowing death.” …

He said that following World War II, an attempt was made to lay the foundations of a new “era of peace, but unfortunately, we do not learn.”

“Unfortunately, the old story of competition between the greater powers went on,” the pope said. “And, in the current war in Ukraine, we are witnessing the impotence of organizations of the United Nations.”

The Vatican has continued to tread carefully with Russia, hopeful that it can play a diplomatic role in ending the conflict at some point. The comments about the UN are less fraught to the Holy See’s standing as a neutral arbiter, as well as a recognition of cold reality in the case of renewed imperial ambitions in Moscow. The Pope’s history lesson glosses over the UN’s futility in the Cold War era too, when the Soviet Union embarked on an aggressive expansionist strategy for communist empire, which didn’t get checked by the UN but instead by NATO and the US. With only a few exceptions — the establishment of Israel being one of the brightest — the UN has done little to nothing in terms of keeping peace. The Cold War remained cold because of the doctrine of mutually assured destruction.


Francis’ statement today will likely boost discussions of a papal visit to Ukraine. The pontiff revealed this weekend that he might like the idea of calling for peace inside the besieged nation, and had signaled a blunter approach might be coming:

On the flight to Malta from Rome, Francis responded to a reporter’s question about visiting Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, by saying that it was “on the table.” Then in his address to the dignitaries and officials in a frescoed government chamber in Malta, Francis blamed a “potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests,” for casting “dark shadows of war” from Europe’s east.

Francis has refused to explicitly cite Mr. Putin or Russia as the aggressor for a variety of reasons, including the Vatican’s hopes of playing a part in a potential peace agreement, and out of precaution so as to not endanger Roman Catholics across the world. But on Saturday, he clearly seemed to be speaking about Mr. Putin, who, Francis said, was “provoking and fomenting conflicts.”

“We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past,” the pope added. “However, the icy winds of war, which bring only death, destruction and hatred in their wake, have swept down powerfully upon the lives of many people and affected us all.”

Would Vladimir Putin shell Kyiv with Pope Francis inside the city? Of course he would, but that might serve Francis’ purposes as well. Besides that potential conflict, the Vatican’s words might be getting more pointedly aimed at Russian Orthodox patriarch and Vladimir Putin stooge Kirill. The calls for Kirill to either oppose the war or watch the Russian church get marginalized for a very long time have continued, but Kirill remains firmly a cheerleader of Putin’s war:


“Ukraine is showing the whole world there are certain values – love for the motherland, love for neighbours – for which it is worth giving one’s life: we feel more and more that Ukraine’s struggle is a spiritual struggle against evil, against the devil and his servants”, said Major Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, whose Greek Catholic Church combines the eastern rite with loyalty to Rome.

“If the enemy kills us and sows death, let us serve life and honour human life. If we see the enemy robbing Ukrainians, stealing and looting, let us be generous benefactors, supporting those needing Christian charity.” …

Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church branded the civilian mass killings a “sign of genocide”, and warned that the “victory of tyranny” over his country would “become a new circle of hell on earth”.

“The whole world now sees what we have long known: the enemy does not just wish to achieve certain officially stated goals, no matter how absurd and false – the enemy came to our land to erase the very identity of the Ukrainian people, to de-Ukrainianise Ukraine”, Metropolitan Epiphany Dumenko said during a Monday funeral in Kyiv for a murdered photographer and film-maker, Maksym Levin. “Yet the victory already achieved by the Ukrainian people is getting closer every day – a moral and military victory.”

Kirill, meanwhile, followed Putin’s lead in claiming Russian victimhood:

Preaching on Sunday in Moscow’s new military cathedral, Kirill urged Russians to pray for “multiplying the power of the armed forces”, and urged military personnel to stand ready to lay down their lives “as the word of God testifies”.

“We are a peace-loving country and long-suffering people, who suffered from wars like few other European nations”, the Patriarch said. “All our people must wake up today and understand that a special time has come, on which their historical fate may depend.”

In a birthday message on Saturday, Kirill praised the “courageous, selfless and responsible” work of the Russian navy’s commander-in-chief, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, adding that his forces, currently blockading and shelling Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, were “invariably showing valour and courage in defending the interests of the Fatherland”.


Shortly afterward, former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called for expelling Kirill and the Russian Orthodox church from the World Council of Churches:

“The riot act has to be read,” the former Archbishop of Canterbury told Radio 4’s Sunday programme.

“When a Church is actively supporting a war of aggression, failing to condemn nakedly obvious breaches of any kind of ethical conduct in wartime, then other Churches do have the right to raise the question.”

“I am still waiting for any senior member of the Orthodox hierarchy to say that the slaughter of the innocent is condemned unequivocally by all forms of Christianity.” …

“It suits Putin to have a compliant church establishment, and the church establishment, conversely, does quite well out of Putin’s regime: lots of expensive new churches being built, lots of privileges for the hierarchy who are still in some ways recovering from all those decades of ferocious persecution under the communist regime.”

It seems rather amazing that the WCC hasn’t acted yet to expel Kirill and his corrupted church on the very same basis Williams uses here. The UN isn’t the only impotent international organization, it seems.

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David Strom 10:00 AM | June 21, 2024