Speed Reads

ecclesiastical burn

Pope says Russian Orthodox patriarch shouldn't act like 'Putin's altar boy'

Pope Francis said in an interview published Tuesday that he told Patriarch Kirill — the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church — not to "transform himself into Putin's altar boy," CNN reported Wednesday.

Francis told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he spoke with Kirill via Zoom for around 40 minutes on March 16. "The first 20 minutes he read to me, with a card in hand, all the justifications for war," Francis said.

"I listened and told him, 'I don't understand anything about this. Brother, we are not clerics of state, we cannot use the language of politics but that of Jesus,'" the pontiff continued.

Francis also confirmed that the two clerics had agreed to postpone a face-to-face meeting in Jerusalem that had been scheduled for June. "It could be an ambiguous signal," the pontiff explained.

The Roman Catholic Church — of which Francis is head — split with the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054. Eastern Orthodoxy comprises between 14 and 16 autocephalous (self-headed) churches, of which Kirill's Russian Orthodox Church is by far the largest.

The week before his Zoom call with Francis, Kirill, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, described the war in Ukraine as a "metaphysical" struggle against a godless international order based on "excess consumption" and "gay parades."

Francis has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine. Last month, he kissed a flag from the Ukrainian city of Bucha and lamented the "horrendous cruelty" Russian soldiers showed to Bucha's civilian population.