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Being realistic about the Pope Francis-Patriarch Kirill meeting in September

It’s doubtful the two men will get much beyond repeating what they said in their Zoom conversation in March.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana Feb. 12, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In arranging to meet in September with Russia’s Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis evidently has two goals in view: peace in Ukraine and progress in Catholic-Orthodox relations. While both are highly desirable, it is far from certain this particular conversation will contribute much to accomplishing either.

Francis and Kirill last met in 2016 in Havana—an encounter commonly assumed to have Russian President Vladimir Putin’s blessing. The two men were scheduled to meet again earlier this year, but that meeting was called off because of the war in Ukraine. Instead, they had a 40-minute Zoom conversation. Now the rescheduled meeting will take place during a September 14-15 interreligious gathering in Kazakhstan.

But will it be helpful to achieving the Pope’s goals? Start with ending the war.

In a Spanish-language TV interview in July, Francis expressed awareness of the limitations of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia as an interlocutor in the cause of peace. Of Kirill, a vocal backer of Putin’s Ukraine policy, the Pope said delicately, “It is evident his position is conditioned by his homeland”—he sees things through Russian eyes.

That was considerably milder than the Pope’s rhetoric last May when he cautioned the Patriarch against serving as “Putin’s altar boy”—a remark the Moscow patriarchate called “regrettable.” This time the sharp-tongued Pope confined himself to saying that only God knows people’s moral responsibility “in the depth of their hearts.”

For his part, Kirill has made no bones of the fact that he supports Putin’s objective of extending Russian hegemony—religious as well as political—in Ukraine as well as in other parts of the region. Western support of Ukraine, he says, is “part of the large scale geopolitical strategy aimed at weakening Russia.”

The Pope has repeatedly declared his eagerness to help end the bloodshed, saying he is ready to go to both Moscow and Kyiv for that purpose. Up to this writing, however, neither Putin nor Ukrainian President Zelensky has leaped at that offer, although the Vatican lately has begun suggesting a papal visit to Ukraine could in fact be imminent.

Meantime Ukrainian voices continue to be raised criticizing Francis the would-be mediator for overdoing his even-handedness and failing to criticize Putin’s aggression and the atrocities that have accompanied it.

What impact a Pope-Kirill conversation will have on Catholic-Orthodox relations is similarly problematical.

It is true, of course, that, as far and away the largest of the world’s autocephalous Orthodox churches, the Russian Orthodox Church can hardly be ignored. But reacting against the Russian invasion, some Ukrainian Orthodox who had been under the jurisdiction of Moscow have broken away and formed their own church, while Patriarch Kirill and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople have clashed publicly. Plainly this intra-Orthodox brouhaha is best left to the Orthodox, without the Bishop of Rome getting involved.

In that Zoom conversation last March, Pope Francis later reported, Kirill “spent the first 20 minutes holding a piece of paper reading all the reasons for the war.”

“I listened to him, and I told him, ‘I don’t know anything about this. Brother, we are not clerics of the state, we cannot use the language of politics, but of Jesus. We are shepherds of the same holy people of God. That is why we must seek the path of peace, to cease the blast of weapons,’” the Pope said.

It seems all too possible that, meeting in September, the two men won’t get much beyond repeating what they said in March. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

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About Russell Shaw 296 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. [Of Kirill, a vocal backer of Putin’s Ukraine policy, the Pope said delicately, “It is evident his position is conditioned by his homeland”—he sees things through Russian eyes.]

    And too many in the Roman Curia have been conditioned by the American Empire and its European vassals. Ho hum.

    There will be no advancement in ecumenical dialogue because the Orthodox see how Francis runs his patriarchate and their objections to RC claims about Roman primacy have been confirmed by his actions.

  2. Unfortunately, across the centuries we have had more than a few church leaders who were wolves in sheep’s clothing. The evidence suggests Patriarch Kirill is one of these. I hope I’m wrong. However, it seems many Orthodox Christians think likewise.

    • Some Orthodox do. It depends which group they belong to. There are some Kirillites writing heaps of rubbish about the Vicar of Christ. Well, we know that this type in our Lord’s time said equally harsh things about Jesus. And they too would have felt justified. Very sad.

  3. “Brother, we are not clerics of the state, we cannot use the language of politics, but of Jesus.”

    Thus speaks the hyper-political, hard-line leftist, globalist, Green New Deal, Great Reset apostle of universal experimental vaccine mandates, open-borders immigration, forced income and property redistribution, Chinese Communist Party appeasement, Pachamama/Smudge Pot/Gaia environmentalism, and “God-made-you-that-way” LGBTQ+ homosexual exceptionalism.

    • Kirillites are showing their true colors.
      This is why these half-baked Christians hate Pope Francis and call him all sorts of nasty names.

      • If you seek “half-baked Christians”, you should look in the mirror. Your agitprop comments betray such ignorance, malice, and vindictiveness that you should be ashamed to post them on a Catholic site. There is no need for me or anyone else to call Bergoglio nasty names when the secular oligarchs are only too ecstatic to wreath him with the titles I have used above. Perhaps you should take a look at the news sometime.

      • He gleefully attacks them in word and deed, drags the Church through the mud, blatantly undermines doctrine, shamelessly promotes and protects the most corrupt and degenerate henchmen he can find and openly allies himself with the viciously anti-Christian governments and financers imaginable. The powerless people who are being kicked in the head and watching in horror the defilement of their Church respond by calling him what he is. Poor Bergoglio! The truth hurts.

    • A very good summary of the Francis papacy. Apparently, my other comment from yesterday was viewed as too splenetic by the moderators. It’s their website, which I support. How can one justify speaking in anything other than the strongest terms when discussing this ongoing scandal?

      • You are exactly right, Tony. One cannot speak in anything other than the strongest terms when discussing the ongoing scandal of this and many, many other aspects of this catastrophic papacy. It is a measure of the gravity and depth of its crisis that the truth has to be spoken in terms that may appear splenetic or shocking. Perhaps the best response is that Congressman Matt Gaetz gave the other day to an interviewer who attempted to castigate and belittle him for his pro-life stance by asking what he would say to pro-abortionists who would be offended by his statements. He replied: “Be offended.”

  4. “Brother, we are not clerics of the state” – True.
    “we cannot use the language of politics, but of Jesus.” Absolutely true.
    “We are shepherds of the same holy people of God. That is why we must seek the path of peace, to cease the blast of weapons.” Again, True.
    A letter in Russian signed by 300 orthodox clergymen called for an immediate end to this evil war. The clergymen mourned “the trials that our brothers and sisters in Ukraine have been undeservedly subjected to” and felt compelled to remind the authorities that “each human life is precious and a unique gift of God, and for that reason we want all the combatants – both Russian and Ukrainian – to return to their homes and families in safe and sound.” They also noted that they respected “a person’s God-given freedom and believe that the people of Ukraine must make their own decision independently, not at gunpoint, without pressure from West or East.”
    There is always a problem when religious think and act as civic leaders. Sadly, Kirill believes “there is a transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world.”

    • For 1,000 years Catholics believed there was a transnational Catholic sphere or civilization called the Holy Roman Empire which included virtually all of Western and Eastern Europe. Were they all, to use your term, “Kirillites” too?

      • Many kings and Queens were. However, they were not representatives of the Church. The point is that people today are behaving in that manner. No different from the Taliban.
        Our Pope Francis may not be liked by the Krilillite Christians but it is so unchristian to call him such names.

      • I see your Point Paul and the risks involved in the Pope surrounding himself with minorities, businessmen, tax collectors, Pharisees, leftists, LGBTQ activists, globalists, tyrants, immigrants, trying to find analogies in religious Amazonian practise that the natives can developed some basic concept which will allow the conversion of these poor people that need Christ so badly. You may say this affect doctrine But only if your faith is week. If you listen to the pope, his writings, his compassion, his opposition to Marxism and liberation theology in Argentina, what is doing is like Jesus, trying to get to all, the poor, the sexually confused, the powerful and through mercy enlist them to the kingdom and conversion. He is taking the same of risk Jesus took, for which was criticized, eating with sinners and publicans.
        Not fasting not washing your hands before you eat like the Pharisees, false prophet. Is there a risk that the Marxist left tries to use the popes incessant activity for more compassion in catholic pastoral in our communities, more welcoming so other can find a community and learn better ways to life a fulfilled life.the radical left wants present the pope as an allied in their evil plans to destroy Christianity and the free democratic west and build globalism.I think Pope Francis tries like Jesus to talk to many in mercy and the kindness of Jesus to open their yards to the truth and convert, so to mitigar the impact of the anti democratic plans of the globalists. He has made clear declarations about rhe doctrine on homosexuality, homosexual priests, against Marxism and capitalist cronism. He wants more compassion in the church towards those who suffer and environmental issues ( regardless of man made or not). He wants present in away that would allow him become a trusted negotiator for peace. Many popes followed that diplomatic and pastoral job, he is in a priledged position as the legitimate vicar of the lord, so his heart opens to humanity. I see how the left uses his labor and words out of context and call him a liberal pope. But popes and Catholics have to be above ideologies.I think based in his works that is a conservative pope who defends doctrine but with compassion for those downtrodden.Ahumble man of faith and intelligent discernment. Even when don’t agree about his approach to social and civilizations challenges, sometimes using naive expressions, he is our spiritual father, head of the magisterium with college of bishops , and selected and inspired by God to be the pastor of his sheet, and I’m sure the Holy Spirit is in him, even when he select honest but naive cardinals who may be manipulated by the marxists. But Instill love the pope because his intentions are pure and God will prevent him from mistake and guide him. I believe the pope is a man of faith, a friend of Jesus a spiritual son of the holy Virgen Mary to who he is very debuted.even thou I disagree with the way he expresses things eg in transgender ideology or does not make stronger comments to those dictators who persecute Catholics in their nations, I think that he has been an effective and credible face of the fight against sexual and power abuse in the church. He has dedicated his conviction, heart and energy to this and building solidarity.he has made strong declarations against abortion and he has wisely advised the US BISHOPS to preserve unity around access to communion to nasty democratic pro abotion politicians, allowing conscientious bishops to make particular decisions in their dioceses about this sensitive issue. overall when I pray for the church , I pray first for the pope so the Holy Spirit gives him enlightment and health to confront this world all the reforms he is doing in the Vatican.he is our father in the faith, deserves our love if not our support and compression on everything he says or does, even if we disagree. That if catholic filial love and faith in the magisterio of the church. In order to be catholic we need to remain in spiritual communion con Francis even if do not like Bergolio.we can criticize him charity.we need to believe that ultimately the church is the body of Christ, resurrected, sitting to the right of the omnipotent who has sent us his Holy Spirit and who wisdom is higher than ours.that should give us peace and the comfort that our beloved Pope and all the Catholic Churches including the Roman rite, are in the all powerful and ineffable hands of the father, Abba. So I encourage you to pray and treat the pope with respect, cynicism, mistrust, names, rude comments are usually the result of impotence, lack of knowledge in the faith, impatience and poorly displaced anger. You deserve better as a Christian, show your forgiveness when things don’t go your way ,our father the Pope needs our love and praise. Catholics don’t fall in the hands of the one causes our brethren day and night. Offer the goodness of your character by using sincere words of charity. Remember no good son or daughter will cause their father unless irrefutable evidence of evil making, in other words, heresy. There is no honest person that say of Pope Francis, unless they are committed to cruelly twist his words and actions unjustly. He needs to be able to reach to all, specially those who have the political and financial power to change the destiny of nations and this ever hotter world, through reasonable steps, not green political fanaticism. I truly believe in my heart that all the pope action he carries is a pastor who really loves and protects his sheep and would give his life for them like the good Sheppard.he won’t rest until all of his sheep , the poor, the suffered are back through the gate and healed.I beg you when you write, think of your souls and who you are, Christian men loved and respected in your communities.please use words of charity and edification, no prejudice or judging harshly without evidence.this way we will show the face of Christ to a paranoid untrustworthy world who has little love for Christian committed to defend the right to educate our children in the faith of Jesus, not Marx, or critical race full of hatred theory or the new gender theories that pray on the character of our society and the physical and mental health of our children. Let’s pray to God through Jesus and the intersection of Mary for the Church, so we can be renovated in hope and armed with the arms of the spirit to fight the good battle.God bless you.

  5. Expecting the worst is to be realistic about anything involving Francis. His meeting with the Putin stooge Krill will not stop the war any more than his ridiculous consecration of last March. The best we can hope for is that it will simply amount to a forgettable waste of time, with the pontiff merely embarrassing himself with some of typically inane remarks. Perhaps there is Russian headdress he can photographed wearing

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  1. Being realistic about the Pope Francis-Patriarch Kirill meeting in September | Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph (FSJ) , Asumbi Sisters Kenya
  2. Being realistic about the Pope Francis-Patriarch Kirill meeting in September – Via Nova Media
  3. Ferenc pápa és Kirill pátriárka szeptemberi találkozójáról - reálisan -

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