The Vatican sought on Tuesday to clarify the pope’s position on Ukraine, after the pontiff’s comment on the death of a Russian ultranationalist’s daughter ruffled feathers in Kyiv.
“The Holy Father’s words on this dramatic issue are to be read as a voice raised in defense of human life and the values associated with it, and not as political positions,” the Vatican said in a statement.
It stressed that the war in Ukraine had been “initiated by the Russian Federation” and that Pope Francis had been “clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious.”
Speaking on Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24, the pope had said of the conflict: “So many innocents… are paying for madness.”
He cited as one example Daria Dugina — the daughter of a Russian ultranationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin’s — who was killed when a bomb exploded under her car.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, Andriy Yurash, responded that the pope should not have put “aggressor and victim” in the same category and the Vatican’s envoy to Kyiv was summoned to the foreign ministry to explain.
Pope Francis, who has repeatedly condemned the conflict, has, on several occasions, been criticized in some quarters for not painting the war in black and white terms, and for leaving the door open to discussions with Moscow.
“Someone may say to me at this point: but you are pro Putin! No, I am not,” the pope stressed in an interview published in June by Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica.
“I am simply against reducing complexity to… good guys and bad guys, without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex.”
In July, the head of the Roman Catholic Church repeated his wish to visit Ukraine.
The 85-year-old pontiff is due to attend a congress of religious leaders in Kazakhstan in mid-September.
Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a fervent supporter of both Putin and his war in Ukraine, had been due to attend the congress but has now said he will not be going.