Pope Francis compares Russia’s war against Ukraine to a devastating Stalin-era famine.


The pope has also often warned against the reckless risk of using nuclear weapons and uncontrollable global consequences that would cause, a clear reference to Mr. Putin’s statements suggesting the use of nuclear weapons was a possibility.

For months after the Feb. 24 invasion, the pope appeared to walk a fine line. He studiously avoided naming Mr. Putin, or even Russia itself, as the aggressor, even as he called for the violence to stop and raised his voice against “unacceptable armed aggression” and the “barbarism of killing children.”

His neutrality, however, drew criticism from Ukraine, especially when he said that Daria Dugina, a 29-year-old Russian ultranationalist close to Mr. Putin who had supported the invasion, was assassinated in August. Francis called her an “innocent” victim.

“The madness of war,” Francis said at the time. “The innocent pay for war — the innocent! Let us think about this reality and say to each other, ‘War is madness.’”

Ukraine’s foreign minister summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to Ukraine to express “profound disappointment.”

After that, Francis changed tack. On Aug. 30, the Vatican for the first time said that Russia was the aggressor in war, condemning Moscow’s invasion in strong terms.

“As for the large-scale war in Ukraine, initiated by the Russian Federation, the interventions of the Holy Father Pope Francis are clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious,” the Vatican said in the statement.

During the early month of the conflict, the pope had also avoided criticism of the war’s chief religious backer and apologist, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. His position changed in May, when he warned Kirill not to “transform himself into Putin’s altar boy,” and urged him to instead work for peace.

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