Cardinal Parolin in Moscow, mediator between President Putin and President Trump

Cardinal Parolin in Moscow, mediator between President Putin and President Trump

By Acopo Scaramuzzi/ lastampa.it

The analysis of Don Stefano Caprio (Oriental Pontifical Institute) on the “Ostpolik 2.0”: the future of the Middle East, the Ukrainian issue, and the Russian contrast to the unilateral American supremacy.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who from the 20th to the 24th of August will go to Moscow and call a visit to Russia, “might act as the moderator capable to reconcile two worlds which should not be considered as opposite”. Don Stefano Caprio, who in the past was a missionary in Russia and today is a professor of Russian Culture and History at the Oriental Pontifical Institute of Rome, holds firm to this belief, while analysing during this interview the different political and ecclesiastical sceneries of the visit that the Secretary of the Vatican State will pay to Moscow, where he is supposed to meet both the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and President Vladimir Putin, in a critical situation when, the major collaborator of Pope Francis, should not only resume the Ostpolitik of his predecessor Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, but also deals with President Donald Trump at the White House, with a new “Westpolitik”.

What do you expect from this visit?
“The Catholic Church right now doesn’t have any direct interest in Russia. The past talks about the possibility of the Pope visiting Russia or about the situation of Catholics in Russia are quite over. Today, Catholics in Russia are a serene presence but small and a visit from the Pope would be of no interest. More crucial issues are, on the contrary, the one of Ukraine, where the Vatican maintains a median position, more of a mediator between Russians and Greco-Catholics rather than siding up with these last ones, and the Middle East, where there is harmony between President Putin’s politics and the Vatican’s one. Generally speaking, we can say that the Vatican presents itself as a mediator between Russia and the rest of the world.”

Well then, let’s analyse the first two crucial issues, first of all the Middle East: on Syria and in general, on the Middle East, there is, in your opinion, a complete convergence of points of view between Moscow and Rome? The Holy See seems to pay more attention than the Kremlin, for example, not to turn the defence of Middle-eastern Catholics into an ideological flag.

“There is not a complete convergence but there is a convergence regarding the bottom of the issue. Persecuted Christians in the Middle East are in majority members of the Orthodox Church and the Holy See understands that there is the need to side up with the Orthodox Church, which tries to avoid any exaggerated tones with the Islamic world which the Orthodoxy is less afraid to adopt, also because Russia presents itself like the role model by saying: here the Islam has been already integrated and we want to do the same in the Middle East. Let’s not forget that Syria was almost the 16th republic of the Soviet Union, and still today many of the Syrian graduate students took their degree in Moscow. There is a direct interest on the side of Russia in Syria, as well as in the Holy Land. The Holy See presents itself on the side of the Orthodox Church trying to hold back the tones a little bit”.

Ukraine is still a stone in the way between the Holy See and Russia? How do you believe this issue will be evolving in the future, both regarding the conflict with Russia and the issue of the so called Uniates?
“On the political issue, as I was saying, the Holy See holds an attitude of mediation towards all interests on the lists. I believe that the Vatican proposal is the one to support a conference as a mediator among all the interested countries, where it will possible to define the particular status of Eastern Ukraine and redefine the situation of Crimea, a passage that would also lead to the end of the sanctions against Russia. Regarding the issue of Christians, the panorama is very articulated. Besides the Greco-Catholics, for example, there is a strong minority of Polish Latin-Catholics, who are anti-Russians but are also against the Greco-Catholics, they would like to divide the Western parts of Ukraine while the Greco-Catholics would like to take back the peninsula of Crimea…A situation might originate in which the Greco-Catholics, the members of the Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of Kiev and part of the members faithful to Moscow could constitute together an independent Orthodox Ukrainian Church, in harmony with the Pope, Moscow and Constantinople: which was from the very beginning the idea for the Uniates. For sure this problem has not found a solution in a long time. It is necessary to analyse the issue and find a way to make the Uniates talk with the Orthodox Church. The Vatican might try to facilitate this confrontation, assuming a role less naive than in the past. We cannot loose sight of the fact, in any way, that half of the Russian Orthodoxy, in terms of parish churches and dioceses, is in Ukraine, and if the Patriarch Kirill looses the Ukrainian Orthodoxy, he would also loose the leadership he holds in the Orthodox world.”

Why, since the letter that the Pope wrote to him as President of the G20 Conference, and that was followed by a wake of Prayers having the goal to discourage an already hesitating Barack Obama from bombing the Syria of President Assad, the Pope has a positive, almost cordial relationship with President Putin, a political man from whom the Pope should feel distant, because of many reasons, both personal and political?
“Because President Putin’s politics ends up by being quite compatible with some interests of the Vatican’s politics. First of all, the position of Russia on the international scenery, already for some years, is characterized by its opposition to the globalization intended as the unilateral American and Western supremacy over the world. Russia has always oppose that and the Vatican, also before Pope Francis, but even more with Pope Francis, is aligned with this position, as it is clearly evident, for example, in the Middle East. Besides, the Catholic Church, has a great interest towards the Russian Orthodox Church, main interlocutor in the Christian world, true representative of the Eastern and Orthodox world. And President Putin politics is strictly tied to the exaltation of the orthodoxy, a fact that the Vatican cannot watch without great interest.”

A basic question: why, the Holy See, and Pope Francis in particular, are interested in Russia?
“The interest of the Catholic Church towards Russia is multi-secular, it is not new, it was already there with the previous Popes. The situation in the last 25, 30 years has developed in a very complicated way. After the Ostpolitik of the second half of the twentieth century, first there has been a great interest from the Polish Pope John Paulus II, that was seen, though, by Moscow like a sort of interference. At the beginning of 2000, that means at the beginning of President Putin government, relations cooled down, the Orthodox Church put up a barrier against all kind of initiatives taken by the Catholic Church in Russia. A frozen relationship which started to melt down with the change of politics promoted by Nuncio Antonio Mennini, representative of the Holy See in Russia since 2002 to 2008, who resumed the line of the Ostpolitik: giving up ideologically what is possible, promoting a more horizontal ecclesiology, in order to both make Moscow and Rome closer, and to create a global political vision aiming at , without the supremacy of one side over the other, a Christian world capable of defending together its own interests. This tendency became stronger because Patriarch Kirill reinforced a line that might be defined as a Russian reaction to the moral degradation of the globalized Western world, and has tried to involve the Vatican in this fight about ethical values, traditional values, and on subjects, for example, like the unity of families. This has been very evident with Pope Benedict XVI, who on these topics was in great harmony with the Russian Orthodoxy, even if, from a political point of view, he was less inclined to an active Ostpolitik. Now with Pope Francis, on one hand, the harmony is smaller: the Russian patriarchate looks at the approach of Pope Bergoglio with a little bit of suspicion. On the other hand, though, the Argentinian Pope promotes more actively the Ostpolitik, has a conception of ecclesiology without the excesses of primatism and promotes more horizontal relations with the other Christian Churches, and he is in convergence with an anti-globalist vision of the balance of power in the world”.

Cardinal Parolin is just the heir of the Ostpolitik of his predecessor Nuncio Agostino Casaroli, but right now it seems like that the Holy See has a problem of “Westpolitik” with Donald Trump…
“Certainly the present Ostpolitik of the Holy See is quite different from the one of Nuncio Casaroli, it is an Ostpolitik 2.0. The interests involved are different, now there is the attempt on the side of the Holy See of moving towards Russia not because it is the enemy, but on the contrary because it might be an ally against “the common enemy” President Trump. But everything must be proved. It is still a riddle if President Trump is the enemy or the ally of President Putin, because the President of the United States if on one side applies sanctions against Russia, on the other side, he sends signals of looking for an agreement. There is a role play. The Vatican as well is critical towards President Trump, this is evident, but here there is also a little bit of role play, because President Trump solves a little bit the relations with the conservative Catholics and like that he pulls the chestnuts out of the fire for the Holy See. There is, in conclusion, a convenience for all the three parties in this triangle of Ostpolitik that is also Westpolitik. And Cardinal Parolin, in this way, can present himself as the mediator who can make closer two worlds which cannot be considered as opposite.”

What do you think, finally, of the relations between Pope Francis and the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill? The meeting in Cuba has been historic, their relations seemed almost “fraternal”, and yet the reforming sensitivity of Pope Bergoglio appears very distant, about subjects like the relationship with modernity and the relationship between religion and politics, from the one of the Russian Patriarch.
“In Cuba, the Vatican, in order to reach the objective of the meeting, has evidently given in on the final announcement. There are declarations regarding traditional values and the family that are not very usual from Pope Bergoglio, but that have obviously been a little bit forced by Patriarch Kirill; as to Ukraine nothing has been said to defend the Greco-Catholics as victims of Russia, but instead the necessity to stop the hostilities from both sides has been pointed out, a position which is favorable to the Russian vision: while on the themes dear to the Argentinian Pope there was almost nothing: a few ecological topics which do not interest Patriarch Kirill but instead the Patriarch of Constantinople aligned, a few references of solidarity towards the refugees. The day after the meeting, then, the Russian First Minister Medvedev attended an international conference about Syria and at least the time coincidence justified the positions supported by Moscow, the Russian armed intervention in Syria. And more, it is true that the meeting has been held on a neutral territory, in Cuba, in the Latin America of Pope Bergoglio, but it is also true that the context, the presence of the leader Raul Castro, the very Soviet airport… the whole atmosphere was more Russian than Western. In short, that meeting is a perfect example of Ostpolitik of which Cardinal Parolin is the great bearer.

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 09:03
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