Why the pope’s representative in Kyiv is fighting ‘fake news’

Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine. / Arturiuxs via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome Newsroom, Apr 13, 2022 / 07:20 am (CNA).

Earlier this month, the Vatican’s embassy in Ukraine published a post “fact-checking” recent claims about the Holy See. It is likely to be the first in a series.

The initiative — launched by Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine — was approved by the Vatican Secretariat of State. Its purpose is to clarify the Holy See’s positions if they are subject to manipulation and to rebut “fake news.”

The April 8 post focused on two points. The first was to clarify the position of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, on the issue of shipping weapons to Ukraine.

The second was to deny claims — spread mainly in the Ukrainian blogosphere — that Russian President Vladimir Putin has accounts at the Institute for the Works of Religion (the IOR, or “Vatican bank”).

The clarification of Parolin’s words followed the publication of a CNA interview with the Vatican’s top diplomat.

In the interview, he said: “I believe that there is the right to self-defense. That is the principle that Ukraine is also resisting Russia. The international community wants to avoid an escalation, and so so far, no one has personally intervened, but I see that many are sending weapons. This is terrible to think about and could cause an escalation that cannot be controlled. However, the principle of legitimate defense remains.”

The cardinal’s words were interpreted as a negative judgment on sending weapons to help Ukraine resist Russian forces. This generated a vigorous debate in some European countries which consider the position of the Holy See too favorable to Russia.

That is an incorrect interpretation of Parolin’s words. Above all, it is a political interpretation. The Holy See does not take positions, nor does it seek to be involved in other states’ decisions. On the contrary, its goal is to be a third party, a reliable international player. This is also because the Vatican is willing to act as a mediator in the conflict, as the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has requested several times.

In its fact-checking post, the Kyiv nunciature invited readers to study the original text of Parolin’s words, delivered in Italian and first published by CNA’s sister agency, ACI Stampa.

The nunciature said: “In the interview, three distinct things are mentioned, also separated by punctuation.”

The first was that “according to what Catholic theology recognizes, every country, and in this case Ukraine, has the right to defend itself.” The second, that “we see that the international community does not want to be directly involved in the war, but some countries send their weapons.” Third and finally, “another fact is the risk that the evolution of the situation will cause an even more serious escalation, with unimaginable consequences.”

In the words of Cardinal Parolin, therefore, there was no judgment, not even implicit, of the decision to supply arms to Ukraine.

The nunciature also rejected public statements insinuating that President Putin kept his money in the “Vatican bank.”

“False,” the nunciature wrote. “The Institute for the Works of Religion manages only the accounts held in the name of natural and legal persons connected with the Catholic Church or with the Holy See (such as, for example, the embassies accredited to the Holy See) and never those of foreign people or governments.”

More fact-checking posts from the nunciature can be expected from time to time. The war in Ukraine is, after all, also a war of information, and often the Holy See’s stance is used to legitimize certain positions at the expense of others.

The pope’s diplomacy, meanwhile, remains one of peace and dialogue. It does not take the sides of states, nor does it enter into their political decisions. But it is committed to inspiring decisions that help to advance integral human development.


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Andrea Gagliarducci is Vatican analyst for Catholic News Agency.

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