Pope Francis is in a Christian propaganda war with Russia and would be losing if not for Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.
But, first, we must look at what this war is?
Pope Francis verse Conservatives:
First off, this subheading is of course misleading without context, because Pope Francis is neither the ultra-liberal theologian many wished he was, nor is Pope Francis the strong conservative others hoped he would be. A good article to understand this is here in America.
But, regardless of the fact that Pope Francis has presented views popular with both, his image is one of a liberal reformer, and one who does not Defend the Faith enough. And thus, we must examine the views that lead to this perception and the idea that Conservative Catholics and the Pope are at odds.
This stems from many examples people have noticed during Pope Francis’s reign.
Whether it be from mistranslations to answers taken out of context, we have seen Pope Francis appear (from a Conservative Catholic perspective) to almost approve of homosexual priests, invite ardent homosexual and abortion rights advocates to key positions within the Vatican, put in a borderline idol into Saint Peter’s Basilica, restrict and remove conservative bishops and cardinals from key positions while being silent on and even promoting very liberal bishops even when they counter Catholic dogma (and are alleged sexual abusers), and his apparent approvals of socialism over capitalism, and increasingly rampant liberation theology.
Now, this is not to say he supports or does not support these things, or that these accusations are true or untrue, but much like former US President George W. Bush, Pope Francis often does not respond to these allegations enough, and when he does, there is often a lack of a clear answer and it is often too late after the story diminishes from the headlines.
Most glaringly for many conservatives though has been Pope Francis’s cordial relation with President Obama and President Biden, but seemingly often fierce antagonism with President Trump, as well as Pope Francis’s famed Cuba diplomacy. This lack of equal criticism has played itself out in economic preferences according to many conservatives as well whereby capitalism is criticized profusely, but socialism not so much.
When tasked with Democratic Party leadership in the White House, Pope Francis has appeared a friend, despite countless abuses to religious liberty and the expansion of abortion under these leaders. When the US Conference of Catholic Bishops wished to make a statement regarding the lack of Catholic humanity displayed by President Biden, the Vatican delayed it from being released and greatly censored it.
Whereas, with Republican Party leadership in the White House, Pope Francis has rightfully had no qualms with making statements against these leaders and their policies and has encouraged the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to do the same!
It gets worse too, as Pope Francis seems to be more at odds with the Bishops in the USA trying to preserve Catholicism than with the Bishops in Germany trying to eradicate Catholicism as we know it (going against Catholic dogma).
And then, late last year and earlier this year, Pope Francis continued his attacks on the Traditional Latin Mass and on the Sovereign Knights of Malta, both very conservative leaning elements of the Church.
Now, all of this criticism in this article is meant to present the reader with the lens to see Pope Francis through from a conservative point of view who sees Pope Francis as trying to change the Church. This is not to say that any of this is as bad as these allegations state, or that these allegations are even true. But, perception is everything and for the people that often believe in Catholicism most, Pope Francis has often been seen as at odds with them the most. A great article to read that can help you understand the worries of many Conservative Catholics can be found in Crisis Magazine here. It is referenced a lot in this first part of the article.
Well, then, what is Russia doing to bring in conservatives?:
This is easy, Russia is merely just defending the Faith both with weapons and rhetoric! Russia defends the Syrian Christians by supporting the al-Assad Regime. Russia defends the Armenian Christians by having a peace keeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia unapologetically promotes Christian values at home and abroad. Russia makes no qualms about what is right and what is wrong according to their view of Christianity! They are direct! Whereas Pope Francis appears to dance around these topics.
This leads many Conservative Catholics to see Russia as the good country in the world sticking up to the “liberal elite” who control the world through the UN and NGOs, and brought this “corruptive pandemic response” to the world in partnership with the Pope.
The Turning Point:
This is where the Russian Invasion of Ukraine has played into the hands of Pope Francis, something Pope Francis absolutely did not want, but something that Pope Francis should use to display why he can represent all Catholics, especially the Conservative Catholics whom he has alienated whether on purpose or not.
Since this invasion, many details about Russian Orthodox Christianity and Russia, plus President Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow have been revealed.
One, Russian Orthodox Christianity is not Catholicism. It actually often discriminates against Catholicism by decreasing how and where it can worship. Furthermore, it is almost completely state-controlled at this point. The Russian Orthodox Church does not stay neutral as Catholicism often does, but actively promotes the war without backlash. The Russian Orthodox Church has also left the Eastern Orthodox Church because they view Ukraine as their’s and Ukrainians and Belarusians as Russian part of Holy Rus’. This has led the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as autocephalous by Constantinople, which is what led to the schism in 2018, and now, even the Ukrainian clergy that stayed under Moscow want out! This lack of separation of Church and State has not led to a theocracy in that religion controls the state, rather it has led to a state religion in that the state controls religion. It would be like if Italy all of a sudden started to control the Catholic Church, which would not be good given some of the laws in Italy.
Two, Russia is not as Christian as people think, and is not very Catholic. Russia has the highest abortion rate per capita and Russia is home to lots of illicit prostitution that has very low fines for prostitution which facilitates its growth. Russia is also home to one of the largest modern-slave populations in the world. Russia does have a lot of good Christian laws, but they suffer like all nations from a lack of Christianity on all fronts, especially the preeminent issue.
Three, President Putin is friends with dictators that kill Christians and discriminate against Christians most, like in North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Furthermore, President Putin oversees a country with lots of assassinations, and while his support for al-Assad may help some Christians out (with some Catholic hierarchical opposition to this), it appears President Putin has helped with alleged chemical weapon attacks and bombing of innocent civilians and hospitals. President Putin seems to care more about political expediency and making Russia stronger than merely modeling after Jesus Christ. And this has become more evident with the Ukraine Invasion and the justifications for killing and bombing indiscriminately there. Plus, as to COVID-19, one can see that Russia and President Putin were right in line with the “liberal elite”, especially President Putin himself with his long and isolating table he often sits at.
Four, Patriarch Kirill is either under President Putin’s wing, or is merely just bad at formulating the Christian teachings on war. Every time Patriarch Kirill speaks, it is as if he is justifying genocide by claiming Ukrainians are really just Russians. He puts nationalism above God, something certain leaders have done in the past. Now, it may be true he is working behind the scenes against the evil powers and policies like Pope Pius XII did during World War Two, but Pope Pius XII did not support the actions of the Axis Powers publicly and in fact, the only times he denounced anyone was for three invasions the Axis Powers did. He also publicly condemned the Axis Powers but usually without mentioning their name. And, if this excuse can be believed for Patriarch Kirill despite all the evidence it should not be, than the same logic could be applied to Pope Francis that alludes to how he is merely just trying to stay within the elite circles to keep the Catholic Church independent and legally practicing, which is actually much more believable since he often does clarify Church teachings on abortion, homosexuality, and other things, just often after the story goes away.
Most notably though has been the fact that not only is President Putin and Russia waging a war against Christians, he is also waging a war against a much more vibrant and populated Catholic community. Catholics form an integral part to the Ukrainian identity, and thus, it is Catholics who are suffering greatly from Russia’s invasion, let alone Orthodox. By fighting against other Christians, especially given the conservative nature of Ukraine and its Catholic and Orthodox churches (and the fact that Ukraine is more Christian than Russia), it really shows Russia’s true colors which is not really one of Christian expansionism, rather, one of Christian destruction.
It is especially highly dangerous for Ukrainian Catholics because for them, they are seen as fully Western and thus fully a threat to Russia because not only are they Ukrainian, but they also look to the Pope for moral guidance! And, this is why the Soviets banned the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1946-1989, persecuted the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church tremendously, even killing and imprisoning some of the Ruthenian clergy, and why the Western areas of Ukraine centered on the Catholics and Catholic cities like Lviv have been most influential in Ukrainian independence and in Ukrainian patriotism, plus in aligning with the West! In fact, all the way back in 2014 in Crimea, Ukrainian Catholics were already being discriminated against once Russia took over this famous and strategically important peninsula. You can find out more about the struggle of Ukrainian Catholics here in the National Catholic Register, which is where most of this paragraph’s sources come from.
While Pope Francis probably feels best to remain publicly neutral to an extent, it is without a doubt that Pope Francis is having the Catholic Church and associated Catholic entities work around the clock to solve this crisis and bring an end to the suffering. And, Pope Francis’s denouncement of actions done by Russia clearly signifies the Holy See’s position.
So, even though Pope Francis and the Catholic Church may be working tirelessly to help Ukraine out, both need to do more in its media to promote what the Catholic Church and Pope Francis are doing, plus what Russia has done to Ukraine.
This would show how the Catholic Church and Pope Francis continue to help out Catholics and others in a time of need, while also showing how bad Russia has been, to the public, thus creating more Catholic support and conversion.
Off to a Good Start?:
So far, yes and no.
Catholic Relief Services, CARITAS, the Sovereign Knights of Malta, and many more Catholic charities and volunteer and aid groups are providing many essential services and resources to the people in need in Ukraine, as well as to Ukrainian refugees in nearby countries. Plus, the ability of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to rhetorically fight against the wishes of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia, and for the betterment of Ukraine, has increased the approval of Catholicism in Ukraine and elsewhere, especially among Conservative Catholics. Furthermore, the ability of Pope Francis to call out the actions of Russia’s Government, while not calling out Russia or the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia’s leadership has contributed to more popularity among Conservative Catholics and Christians alike. Plus, both the Sovereign Knights of Malta and the Holy See have called for and promoted humanitarian corridors to allow Ukrainian refugees to flee more safely and for food, drinks, and other necessities to be supplied via make shift cease-fire zones, as well as a cease-fire and end to the war as a whole.
But, recently, Pope Francis again seems to be at odds with Conservative Catholics by forcefully relieving Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres of the Diocese of Arecibo in Puerto Rico. No one really knows why or how, but there are two reasons that come to mind, and again, from the conservative perspective, appear to be the reasons. One is that Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres refused to send his seminarians in his diocese to a newly approved interdiocesan seminary for Puerto Rico’s dioceses and another is that Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres refused to sign a joint declaration from the Puerto Rican bishops that stated that not only could they not see how conscientious objection could be formed from a Catholic moral conscious for refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine, but that also all Catholics have a duty to be vaccinated! Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres was in his right as a bishop to refuse to send his seminarians outside of his diocese, and his teachings on the vaccine were actually more in line with the Holy See’s, but nonetheless, Pope Francis has done something that almost is never done, and that is remove an apostolic successor (bishop). Even Pope Benedict XVI had to wait five years to relieve Bishop William Morris in Australia for acts that contradicted Catholic dogma, thus equalling an excommunicated offense. On the other hand, there appeared to be no due process, nor was there any explanation for the removal of Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres. While Pope Francis may be within his rights to do this, this type of brazen authoritarianism raised at those seen as more conservative is something that should not happen to begin with according to most, but especially not now! This is especially true when there are bishops, most importantly in Germany and Luxembourg, advocating for stances counter to Catholicism and conducting acts against the orders of Pope Francis, and yet nothing seems to happen to these clergy who should be excommunicated. It further splits the Church apart and gives into the allegations that Pope Francis does not defend our Church’s teachings, and is on the wrong side! You can read an expert analysis of the Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres case in The Pillar here.
Pope Francis is a much better pope than many give him credit for, but he also clearly lacks certain qualities that have been brought up by all sides within the Catholic Church. In the end, like all popes, Pope Francis is only infallible when he speaks ex cathedra, but outside of this, he is very fallible like all humans. However, in this war of propaganda, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church need to capitalize on this unique opportunity to display the good works done under Pope Francis, as well as the lack of shortfalls our Church has in comparison to all others. Our ability to possess spiritual independence and our ability to speak against actions counter to Christianity is an ability many churches do not have or do not do. And, our resources are far superior to all others, and thus, our ability to help others in need is also superior to all others. Therefore, Pope Francis needs to make clear to all Catholics and all Christians alike that our Church promotes good and fights against evil, unlike a certain other church. But, by continuing to work against conservative elements within the Church, Pope Francis is effectively making a large swath of Catholics and Christians alike, as well as the often greatest defenders and most practicing of Catholics, feel like they are in a Spanish Civil War with no great options to support. In reality, Conservative Catholics should be able to see and experience a revitalization of just how great our Church is if Pope Francis is able to focus on the most important matters at hand, and that is support of the Ukrainian Catholics and all Ukrainians against Russian aggression, as well as the defense of Catholicism against those that wish to destroy it!