Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at The Institute of World Politics. He holds the Kosciuszko Chair of Polish Studies. He knows his stuff regarding the dumbest pope in modern memory.


Chodakiewicz: Pope Francis recently shocked many by positing parity between Vladimir Putin and Russia on one hand, and Ukraine and NATO on the other. The Holy Father insisted both are to blame for the raging war.

In stark contrast to the “Holy Alliance” of Saint John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher who deployed a brilliant strategy to defeat Soviet communism, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been channeling his youthful leftism again in a bumbling effort to relate to Russia.

I get it. A pope is supposed to love peace and loath war—except just war. Francis certainly has a point appealing for a cessation of hostilities. But he strains to prove the fault for violence rests on both sides of the conflict.

In the papal telling, egged on by the United States, “NATO [was] barking at Russia’s gate” in Ukraine for so long that Moscow finally reacted. Thus, needlessly provoked, the Kremlin invaded.

What struck me immediately was the onomatopoeic rhetorical device the Pope deployed: “barking.” Dogs bark. Presumably the Ukrainian dog was barking along with the U.S. and NATO canine choir. It was not just an American show, and not even primarily.

What a frightful image! What an unfortunate choice of words by Pope Francis. Did he understand their implication? Or, perhaps, was it another Bergoglio foot-in-the-mouth moment?

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Pope Francis has it absolutely backwards: the big, bad Putin wolf was circling around Ukraine, growling, and lashing out at it since at least 2014. It was the Ukrainian dog, if you will, and not NATO, barking at the intruder by its own fence and inside the property as the mighty eastern neighbor continued trespassing on Ukrainian territory, illegally occupying Crimea and chunks of the Donbas.

The U.S. and some of our NATO allies did help Ukraine some discreetly. But when the Russians pounced, we left the Ukrainians largely to their own devices—at least initially.

The U.S. and NATO assisted because the Ukrainian government requested so to fend off a Russian invasion. It is foolish to hope that absolute inertia would have saved the Ukrainians from being reabsorbed by the Russian empire.

Thus, Kiyv resolved to prepare itself to fight. Ukraine wants to preserve its sovereignty like other nations in the Intermarium. If Russia attacks Poland and the Poles oppose them arms in hand, will that be too much “barking” for Bergoglio’s liking? Will Francis blame the victim again?

Why does the pope posit parity between the U.S. and the post-Evil Empire? His narrative of parity between Russia and NATO (and Ukraine) is a pontifical dog whistle. Francis’s relativistic remark stems from the old leftist revolutionary arsenal of the latter part of the Cold War.

It is telling that Brazil’s leftist presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva immediately echoed the pontiff in the relativist choir. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is “as responsible as Putin” for the war, da Silva said.

After 1956 and Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” denouncing “the cult of personality” Stalin ceased to be sexy among Western leftists. So, they turned to worshipping Mao and lionizing Pol Pot.

Later, when those bloody idols lost their luster, the progressives turned from pro-Communist absolutism to moral relativism. In this new context, both the United States and the Soviet Union were proclaimed equally evil…

Now, given his leftist pedigree, a penchant for equivocation, a whiff of moral relativism, and a foot-in-the-mouth affliction, it is increasingly obvious that Pope Francis is ill-equipped to fill the shoes of his predecessors. No one I know expected either a call for a crusade or a Regensburg address à la Benedict XVI from Francis on Russia. It is enough for him to talk about love and pray for peace. Instead of positing false parity between freedom and unfreedom, let Pope Francis embrace silence which is golden sometimes.