Catholic reactions to the war in Ukraine have varied due to different political perspectives that influence them. But of central importance is the reaction of the Ukrainian hierarchy itself. Already in February of 2016, when Pope Francis and the Patriarch of Moscow signed an agreement in Cuba, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv gave a respectful interview in which he commented on the document. While insisting on the spiritual role of the papacy in the deliberations, contrasting it with the clearly political concerns of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, he cited as an example the claim of the Patriarch that Putin’s intervention in Syria was a “holy war."1 Conservative members of the hierarchy such as Cardinal Sarah2 and Bishop Athanasius Schneider3 have interpreted Putin’s Syrian intervention in a positive way, but the Archbishop of Kyiv seemed less convinced about Russian motives. The Ukrainian archbishop’s suspicions about Russian foreign policy proved justified when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022. But not all Catholics in other countries shared this same reaction. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò led in raising suspicions not about Russia, but about Western reaction and leadership. Some used earlier statements of Cardinal Sarah to argue that the latter had given evidence to support the position that Archbishop Viganò had now taken.4 But Archbishop Viganò’s position has not gone without serious challenge. The reasons for this division in Catholic public opinion are already well known. In 2019 Bishop Athanasius Schneider indirectly analyzed this question by reflecting on the theme of “Beyond the West.”5 However, being very restrained in taking a position as a bishop on strictly political questions, he remained neutral in making a moral judgment about Vladimir Putin. Later, however, he joined his voice with other bishops in opposing the abuse of political authority by Western leaders, those who were using the Covid epidemic to impose the use of abortion-tainted vaccines. Prominent among such episcopal critics was Archbishop Viganò.interpretation. The very strict approach of these bishops in opposing the use of Covid vaccines brought a response from a prominent lay writer, historian Roberto de Mattei, who began to challenge Archbishop Viganò by arguing that he was not only overlooking the simultaneous threat posed by Russia, but was also collaborating with others who represented leftist political ideologies, encompassing prominent figures from the East and West alike.6 When Archbishop Viganò became more explicit in criticizing Western involvement in Ukraine, Prof. Roberto de Mattei responded very firmly by arguing that Archbishop Viganò had gone too far in attacking the West: “It is deeply regrettable that an eminent Catholic archbishop such as Carlo Maria Viganò should present Putin’s war as a just war to defeat the West. The West is the firstborn son of the Church, today increasingly disfigured by Revolution, but still the firstborn. A European who disowns it on the pretext of fighting the New World Order is like a son who disowns his mother.”7 To understand the significance of Prof. de Mattei’s statement, one must go back to the Council, to the petitions submitted for the consecration of Russia and the condemnation of Communism. Archbishop Viganò rightly credits Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre for the leadership of the traditionalist current at the Council,8 but at the same time the initiative behind the writing of these two petitions came from the laity, from Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira and the TFP.9 In the meantime Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira wrote an essay that was distributed to all the Council Fathers, originally under the title The Freedom of the Church in the Communist State,10 in which he argued that the Church cannot collaborate with the communist governments, because the Church would have to surrender some of her own moral teaching in order to reach any such agreement. Nearly three decades later, when the Soviet Union was starting to collapse, as highlighted by the fall of the Berlin Wall, Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira wrote a lengthy manifesto published in more than fifty major newspapers, warning against the impression that Communism was disappearing, and cautioning that the “hasty covering of the communist parties’ façade…does not guarantee in the least that the communists have really changed doctrines.” After his death in October 1995, his followers continued to do research into Russian activity after the Soviet era. When the Vatican published the Third Secret in June 2000, other traditional Catholics, in particular the followers of the late Father Nicholas Gruner, joined in presenting evidence that Russia had by no means converted. However, as years passed, and after speculation about a hypothetical missing part of the Third Secret had turned attention away from Sister Lucia’s explanation of the content of the Secret – as referring back to the Second Secret and the prophecy about Russia spreading its errors – a new interpretation of world events began to develop, one that increasingly blamed the West rather than Russia for the escalation of international tensions.11 Such an argument, now popularized by Archbishop Viganò, has been challenged not only by Roberto de Mattei, but also by TFP authors Julio Loredo12 and Luiz Sérgio Solimeno.13 These opposed perspectives have now reached a climax in the debate among Catholics about the ultimate responsibility for the war in Ukraine. The analysis of this debate will require further discussion, for we are confronted not only with differences in political analysis, but even more importantly with the religious aspects of the crisis. The Pope and the bishops have consecrated Russia, but the Vatican has been reluctant to name Russia specifically as the aggressor, and to risk its dialogue with the Russian Orthodox. The Archbishop of Kyiv, who, since February 2016, had pointed out an ambiguity in the Vatican’s treatment of the crisis, has nevertheless been a strong supporter of Vatican efforts. To understand the relationship between these various aspects of the crisis will be the goal of future articles. For as we were preparing to email this article, we learned that Pope Francis has accused NATO of “barking at Russia’s gate,”14 a statement that will inevitably be seen as purely political, and as a discouragement to the Ukrainian people as they seek Western support. _______________________
1 “‘Two Parallel Worlds’ – An Interview with His Beatitude Sviatoslav” http://news.ugcc.ua/en/interview/two_parallel_worlds__an_interview_with_his_beatitude_sviatoslav_75970.html.
2 "Abp. Viganò is not alone: Cardinal Sarah has also ‘looked East’ to remedy the ‘errors of the West’” https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/abp-vigano-is-not-alone-cardinal-sarah-has-also-looked-east-to-remedy-the-errors-of-the-west/?utm_source=top_news&utm_campaign=usa
3 Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph over the Darkness of the Age (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2019), pp. 193-215.
4 "Abp. Viganò is not alone: Cardinal Sarah…,” op. cit.
5 Christus Vincit. op. cit
6 “When Confusion Enters the Traditional World” https://voiceofthefamily.com/when-confusion-enters-the-traditional-world/?
7 "Russia’s War and the Message of Fatima” https://www.robertodemattei.it/en/russias-war-and-the-message-of-fatima/
8 “Vatican Corruption, Covid and Ukraine: Archbishop Viganò Interviewed on Italian TV" remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/fetzen-fliegen/item/5926-vatican-corruption-covid-ukraine-archbishop-vigano-interviewed-on-italian-tv
9 Minha Vida Pública: Compilação de Relatos Autobiográficos de Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira [My Public Life: Compilation of Autobiographical Accounts of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira] (São Paulo, 2015: Artpress Indústria Gráfica e Editora Ltda.), pp. 487 ff.
10 Later titled The Church and the Communist State: The Impossible Coexistence https://www.tfp.org/the-church-and-the-communist-state-the-impossible-coexistence/
11 A principal example of this literature, and specifically relating to Ukraine, is James Hanisch, Only She Can Help US! Evil Forces Are Driving the World toward War, introduction by Father Nicholas Gruner (Pound Ridge: Good Counsel Publications, 2014).
12 “Can Russia and NATO Co-operate? Vladimir Putin Says ‘No.’ It is Time for the Facts” https://www.tfp.org/can-russia-and-nato-co-operate-vladimir-putin-says-no-it-is-time-for-the-facts/
13 “Archbishop Viganò’s Attempt to Justify Putin’s War on Ukraine Runs Counter to the Fatima Message” https://www.tfp.org/archbishop-viganos-attempt-to-justify-putins-war-on-ukraine-runs-counter-the-fatima-message/
14 “Pope Francis expresses desire to meet with Putin in Moscow, slams NATO for ‘barking at Russia’s gate’” https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/barking-at-russias-gate-pope-francis-slams-nato-in-interview-about-war/