Over the last few decades, we have become accustomed to seeing the Vatican as a neutral entity in the international arena, unfolding in calls for disarmament and peace, routinely ignored by the parties involved. It wasn’t always like that. It is well known that the Catholic Church has a bloody history, filled with persecution, brutal regime support and attempts to accumulate secular power.
However, the era of absolute international neutrality for the Holy See appears to have come to an end in the face of the invasion of Ukraine, with Pope Francis publicly condemning Russia as a “potentate, sadly trapped in claims of nationalist interest”, even kissing a Ukrainian flag, which was brought to him from Bucha, where Russian troops tortured and massacred civilians. Still, the pontiff has been trying to maintain bridges with the Kremlin, claiming to be determined to visit Vladimir Putin, who has so far left the Pope hanging.
The Vatican’s current diplomatic line brings to mind its stance during the Cold War, when it followed the doctrine of ostpolitik. That is, to operate behind the scenes and keep channels of communication open with the same communist regimes that persecuted believers. It was not a consensual policy – this often caused great resentment among Catholic communities under pressure from these militant atheist regimes. Something similar is felt with the Pope’s position on the invasion of Ukraine, with the Holy See abstaining from motions condemning Russia by the United Nations.
Despite growing condemnation of the Kremlin by Francis, who even offered to send a vessel flying the Vatican flag to rescue civilians from Mariupol, the target of “barbaric” and “macabre” bombing, as the Pope described it, his decision to “continue with the classic Vatican diplomacy of ostpolitik, of dialoguing with the enemy and not closing the door, is debatable,” Father Stefano Caprio, professor of Church history at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, explained to the Associated Press. “Those who are upset that the Pope no longer defends them are right. But those on the diplomatic side who say that these relationships cannot be thrown away are also right. They are obviously in contradiction”.
However, among the most furious, the parallel is no longer with the Cold War, but with the times of World War II. Critics say that “the pontiff risks slipping from his position of principle into the muddy space occupied by Pope Pius XII, a wartime Pope who avoided speaking critically of Hitler and the Axis when Germany invaded Poland and ended up carry out the Holocaust,” ABC wrote. Even today the Catholic Church maintains that Pius XII’s silence allowed him to work behind the scenes in order to save the lives of Jews and other victims of the Nazis. But there is growing evidence against this justification as the Vatican archives from this period are finally being opened.
Documents analyzed by the German newspaper Die Zeit indicate that the Vatican, which had signed a Concordat with the Nazi regime in 1933, learned of the massacre of Jews as early as the autumn of 1942, keeping silent and devaluing the case. Jews “easily exaggerate” and “Orientals” – a reference to Ukrainian Archbishop Andrzej Szeptycki, who informed the Pope of the massacres in the Lviv ghetto, according to Haaretz – “are not an example of honesty,” a Vatican official wrote in a report. .
“Just War”? Pope Francis has always positioned himself in a radical pacifism, denying that it is possible to have a “just war”, a notion coined by St. IV and V, and which is still held by some theologians. It is a stance that has earned the pontiff harsh criticism from the most conservative sectors of the Church.
“There was a time, even in our churches, when people talked about holy war or just war. Today we cannot speak in this way. There was a Christian awareness of the importance of peace that developed,” Francis proclaimed in March, quoted by Vatican News, after a videoconference with Cyril, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has enthusiastically supported the invasion ordered by Putin. “Wars are always unjust,” Pope Francis continued. “Since it is God’s people who pay. Our hearts cannot help but cry for the dead children and women, along with all the victims of war. War is never the way.”
Today we associate the Catholic Church with this stance. Even in the times when the George W. Bush administration forged the theory of weapons of mass destruction to advance against Saddam Hussein’s regime, John Paul II asserted himself as one of the fiercest opponents of the invasion of Iraq, nicknamed the a “defeat for humanity”. The serene and aging Pope even got angry in a meeting with Tony Blair, recalled the Los Angeles Times, in an article published in 2005, entitled “The Pope begged. We don’t listen”.
Many other conflicts had Catholic activists at the forefront of the peace movement, including during the Vietnam War. They counted on names like Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit who was the first priest sentenced to a prison term for anti-war activity, publicly burning his call to the military reserve. Berrigan, who became an icon of the Catholic left, wanted to “escape from a simplistic vision of violence and war”, he explained in an open letter in 1976, intending to “create authentic and honest roots with the Third World poor and with the working class”. ”. After being released, the Jesuit would invade a nuclear missile factory, destroying the tip of these with a hammer, rendering them useless, and spreading blood on the premises.
It is strange to think that pacifists like Berrigan were drawn to the same doctrine that inspired atrocities such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Renaissance wars between the Holy See and the other Italian states. Before the development of the “Christian awareness of the importance of peace”, as Pope Francis describes it, there is perhaps no better example of the bellicosity of the Catholic Church than the consulate of Alexander VI, who formerly went by the name of Rodrigo Borgia, at the end of the century. XV.
It’s a nickname “that has become synonymous with blind ambition, murder, incest and torture,” described the Smithsonian Museum. Alexander VI would eventually have at least nine children, two of whom, Caesar and Lucrezia, would be lovers, plotting to murder her husbands. The legends and myths of this period – ranging from orgies in the Vatican to the famous rings that opened to release poison – would inspire Machiavelli to write The Prince, a landmark of political science, and still haunt the Church.