The Pope's Public Image Destroyed in Ukraine

September 18, 2023
Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk

Sviatoslav Schevchuk, Patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, declared that “the public image of the Pope is destroyed in Ukraine” during a press conference organized on September 14, 2023 in Rome, on the occasion of the synod of his sui iuris Eastern Church.

From September 3 to 13, the synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church brought together 45 bishops, from Ukraine as well as from Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. On September 6, participants went to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis for two hours.

The bishops thanked the Pontiff in a statement, and reported having expressed to him “the suffering” of their people and “a certain disappointment” for the “misunderstandings” between Kyiv and Rome. The Pope's remarks on Great Russia, during a recent video conference with Russian Catholics, greatly shocked the Ukrainian public.

Patriarch Schevchuk also returned to the comments made by an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has criticized the diplomatic action of Francis, stating that the Pope being a “Russophile” prevents him from playing a mediating role. The patriarch explained that, according to several sources, this is the “personal opinion” of the advisor and not an official statement from Ukraine.

The patriarch reported that Francis's popularity has plummeted in Ukraine. While polls made him the main “moral leader” for nearly half of Ukrainians before the war, they now give him only “6%, or even 3%” confidence rating currently. “The public image of the Pope is destroyed in Ukraine … and this is a real problem for the Catholic Church in Ukraine,” he added.

Schevchuk estimated that “without global support from the international community, Ukraine will not be able to resist” Russia, and affirmed his confidence in the peace formula carried by Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the Pope's envoy currently in Beijing.

The Ukrainian leader recalled the Pontiff's words during their meeting: “Perhaps you doubt the Pope's position. I assure you: I am with you.” He recalled the 227 public interventions of the Pope in favor of Ukraine since the start of the conflict. The choice to organize their synod in the Italian capital made it possible to “grow the Catholic communion,” estimated the head of this Eastern Church which re-united with Rome in 1596.

The Patriarch of Kyiv further explained that, “during their meeting the Pope was able to hear the testimony of the bishops of the dioceses most affected by the war, in particular those of Odessa, Kharkhiv, and Donetsk – today exiled in Zaporizhia. Currently, no Catholic priest, Latin or Greek Catholic, can exercise his pastoral activity in the Ukrainian territories occupied by the Russian army.”

Shevchuk defended the Pontiff, but seemed to deplore some of his polemical statements, citing in particular his praise of the “pax mongolica” of the 13th century during his recent trip to Mongolia. The patriarch considers those statements to be inconsistent with what the invaded and subjugated populations – notably those of Ukraine or Poland – suffered under the Mongols at that time.

During their meeting with the Pope, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops expressed their desire to see their Eastern Church, currently recgonized only as a major archbishopric in official Vatican documents, elevated to the rank of patriarchate (which is what the Ukrainians regard it as).