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Russian Orthodox Church says Pope’s statements won’t help dialogue with Vatican

The talks of the church leaders took place on March 16

MOSCOW, May 4. /TASS/. Pope Francis in an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera misrepresented his conversation with Patriarch Kirill that took place on March 16 and the statements are unlikely to help a constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, the Moscow Patriarchate said in a statement on Wednesday.

"It is regrettable that a month and a half after the conversation with Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis chose the wrong tone to convey the content of this conversation," the statement by the Patriarchate’s external relations department said. "Such statements are unlikely to contribute to the establishment of a constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, which is especially necessary at the present time."

It said the patriarch told the Pope about some facts that were completely ignored or had only cursory mention in Western news media. The leader of the Russian church said the conflict started from the 2014 events in Kiev that led to a change of government in Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill reviewed the tragic events of May 2, 2014, in Odessa when he said actions by Nazi groups caused deaths of a large number of peaceful Russian-speaking civilians.

Kirill further said that Russia was assured in the waning days of the Soviet era that NATO wouldn’t expand eastward, the statement said. That promise was later broken, and even the former Soviet Baltic republics joined the bloc. As a result, according to the statement, the situation was dangerous as NATO’s frontier was just 130 kilometers from St. Petersburg, with missiles potentially taking just a few minutes to reach it. If Ukraine joined NATO, missiles would potentially also take just a few minutes to reach Moscow.

"Russia never could and can’t allow it," the statement said.

Kirill concluded that conversation, the statement said, by saying his flock was on both sides of the conflict and the situation caused him great pain. He called for putting aside geopolitics and looking for ways that church leaders could influence the situation and help the conflicting sides to achieve peace and justice, according to the statement.

Pope Francis told Corriere della Sera on Tuesday, among other things, that Patriarch Kirill spent the first 20 minutes of their Zoom conversation on reading from a paper about the "justifications of the war" in Ukraine. The Pope said, according to the interview, that spiritual leaders are not government officials and can’t "speak the language of war." The Pope said there was a lack of will to achieve peace and he felt pessimistic about chances for a prompt settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.

The talks of the church leaders took place on March 16 via a video link. The press service of the Holy See said at the time that that Pope Francis called on Patriarch Kirill "to join forces in the name of peace." The Russian church said following the meeting that the sides discussed the situation in Ukraine, paying special attention to "the humanitarian aspects of the current crisis and the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church to overcome its consequences." The Pope and Patriarch Kirill also expressed hope for a "prompt achievement of a fair peace," the Patriarchate said.