David E. Weisberg

The pope asks Ukraine, but not Hamas, to surrender

In an interview partially released earlier this month, Pope Francis offered an astonishing commentary on world events. When asked whether it would be right for Ukraine to raise a white flag and yield to Russia as the strongest party in the war, the pope said:

“But I think that the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates. The word ‘negotiate’ is a courageous word.  When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate.”

This comes from a pope who has frequently expressed sadness over the suffering of Ukrainians, but has never actually condemned Russian president Vladimir Putin for the invasion of Ukraine.  In fact, the pope has even parroted one of Putin’s alleged justifications for the brutal and unlawful invasion, when the pope mused that Putin might have been motivated by the “barking of NATO at Russia’s door.”  So NATO, in the pope’s understanding, can well be likened to a barking dog, while Putin is never explicitly criticized.  Thus, the pope allies himself with the likes of Putin’s “dear friend,” Communist China’s Xi Jinping, who is also very careful never to criticize the invasion of Ukraine.

I would submit that every right-minded individual, whether a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church or not, would appreciate three things.  First, that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was both a blatant violation of international law and an act of moral depravity.  Secondly, that Ukraine has the right under international law to defend itself against an unlawful invader. And, thirdly, that anyone who has even an elementary knowledge of history, and particularly of the history of Europe, knows that the appeasement of autocratic bullies results only in more bullying. If Pope Francis understands any of these three truths, he is certainly not giving voice to them in public.

In addition, the pope’s recent statements ignore more than 1,000 years of the Church’s teachings on just-war theory.  The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, days after the pope’s statement was disclosed, issued its own statement.  While asserting that it does not “reflect… upon the pope’s statement,” the Ukrainian Church’s statement sharply rejects the pope’s views and ends with these words:

 “Notwithstanding the suggestions for need for negotiations coming from representatives of different countries, including the Holy Father himself, Ukrainians will continue to defend freedom and dignity to achieve a peace that is just. They believe in freedom and God-given human dignity. They believe in truth, God’s truth. They are convinced that God’s truth will prevail.”

What makes the pope’s comments even more remarkable is the complete absence of any reference to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.  It is very clear to every fair-minded observer that Hamas will be utterly defeated when Israel attacks Hamas’s last refuge in Rafah, and it is also clear that Palestinian non-combatants will inevitably die in that attack because Hamas deliberately hides its gunmen among and beneath civilians.  Yet the pope uttered not one word urging Hamas to lay down its arms so as to avoid additional civilian casualties and deaths. The pope says that Ukraine, which is fighting a just war to repel unlawful invaders, and whose soldiers in fact do not use Ukrainian civilians as human shields, should “see that [it is] defeated” and have “the courage of the white flag.”  But the pope doesn’t even hint that Hamas, which murderously violated a de facto cease fire agreement and in fact does use other Palestinians as human shields, should admit that it has been defeated and surrender.

It is a commonplace to say that the pope’s role on the world stage is two-fold.  He is the head of his Church, and he is also viewed by many, both Catholics and non-Catholics, as a moral authority.  Pope Francis presumably would wish to properly fulfill both of those roles.  Yet, time and again, his publicly expressed opinions on world events leave even those who are inclined to admire him with serious doubts about his wisdom.

In today’s tumultuous, violent world, it is Hamas that is most deserving of an admonition–indeed, of a command–to lay down its arms and surrender, so as to avoid more bloodshed and, in particular, to avoid the deaths of the human shields behind whom Hamas hides.  But the pope says nothing at all about Hamas. Instead, he implicitly criticizes Ukraine for exercising its legal and moral right of self-defense.  The inevitable result is an irreversible loss of this pope’s moral authority.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at:
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