The subject of the Vatican’s geopolitical positioning has recently generated increased attention among the general public. The breakdown of the unipolar international order and the decline of the Church’s power in Europe and North America pose enormous problems for the Vatican.
John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s successors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, are notably outdone by Pope Francis’s political stances. With the death of Benedict, who served as a mediator between his successor and his detractors as “pope emeritus” for a decade, internal church disagreements have grown. Progressives and conservatives in Germany have diverged to such a degree that a schism can no longer be ruled out. Obviously, today’s primary attention is on the conflict in Ukraine. After the Soviet invasion, there have been a multitude of calls for peace.
Pope Francis and Ukraine’s invasion
Pope Francis demanded the immediate suspension of hostilities on February 24, 2022. Since then, he has reiterated this request dozens of times, expressing his compassion for the war’s victims. Nonetheless, the Pope questions whether it is appropriate to provide arms to Ukraine and has suggested that the United States and NATO bear some responsibility for the conflict: “They are howling at the gates of Russia.” A few months prior to the invasion, he stated, “They do not realize that the Russians are imperialists who will not tolerate any foreign power approaching them.”
The pope stated that he is not on President Vladimir Putin’s side, but that he is “just against simplifying complexity to the dichotomy between good men and bad guys without reasoning about extremely deep foundations and interests.” In the end, everything comes down to the desire to test and sell weapons. It is terribly unfortunate, but ultimately that is what is at stake.” This ruling demonstrates the South American Pope’s deep mistrust of the United States.
To yet, Pope Francis has rejected to come to Kiev unless he can also visit Moscow. President Putin has not yet responded to this request. Not only did the conflict in Ukraine damage diplomatic ties between the Vatican and the Russian Federation, but it also put a halt to discussion with the Moscow Patriarchate for the foreseeable future. Russian Orthodox clergy assert that Moscow is the “Third Rome” with a divine obligation to protect its dominion against wickedness in the West. East-West relations are at their lowest point in the religious realm since the conclusion of the Cold War.
The Catholic Church and autocratic governments
China, where the Catholic Church has been under growing criticism since Xi Jinping came to power, is the Vatican’s second significant problem. Pope Francis is making concessions to the dictatorship in an effort to improve their plight. In 2018, the Vatican and China reached an agreement that will be extended in 2022. It stipulates the nomination of Catholic bishops by the communist government, against the Pope’s objection. The 91-year-old Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun is one among the fiercest opponents of the pact, which has not been made public.
More problematic are the Vatican’s links with South American insurgents. In September 2015, Pope Francis visited Cuba, where he engaged in a “intimate” meeting with Fidel Castro. The pope’s condemnation of the dictatorial Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, has been restrained. Ortega has shut down Catholic television and radio stations, evicted the papal envoy, and detained Catholic priests.