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The Francis-Kirill Meeting:
An Incoherent Affair

by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 17, 2016

So Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill have had their meeting at the airport in Havana. They hugged and kissed each other three times on the cheek. Francis exclaimed “Finally!” and “We are brothers!” Then they signed a joint declaration while Raul Castro, the mass-murdering thug who carries on for his mass-murdering brother, looked on benignly as if he were an angel of peace who had brought the two together.

And that was the end of this rather absurd event in an airport waiting room on the supposedly “neutral” ground of a communist dictatorship aligned with the Kremlin and thus with Kirill, an agent of the Russian state.           

So what did the meeting accomplish?  From the Catholic perspective a lot of nothing, which is always the outcome of these “historic” post-Vatican II encounters between popes and various heretical and schismatic clerics.  From the Orthodox perspective, however, a great deal was gained. 

A brief recap:

First, Francis was able to enjoy a public relations coup and a moment of personal emotional fulfillment in front of the cameras, exulting that “finally” a Russian Orthodox patriarch had agreed to meet with a Pope and that the two are “brothers.” 

So what?  The Orthodox schism remains, and the joint declaration made it clear that, so far as “brother” Kirill and the Russian Orthodox are concerned, there will never be a reunification with Rome under the authority of the Roman Pontiff. Accordingly, the document rejects unity on the basis of what the Orthodox disparage as “uniate” Greek Catholic churches that are in union with Rome:  “It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re-establish unity.” Kirill does generously grant, however, that the existing “uniate” churches have “the right to exist” — as if he had any say in where and how the one true Church of Christ establishes itself.

Now, how can the unity of the Orthodox with Rome ever be accomplished without reunion in the Catholic Church?  Well, of course, it cannot be. Thus Francis agrees, in essence, that the Orthodox schism will never end.  Indeed, the only schism the document mentions is that between Orthodox factions in Ukraine on account of the annexation of Crimea: “It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this…”

Quite absurdly, then, the Vicar of Christ expresses the hope that a recently emergent  intra-Orthodox schism will be healed while pretending there is no thousand-year-long schism between the Orthodox at large and Rome.  So much for the prayer of Saint Pius X that God will “hasten the day when the nations of the East shall return to Catholic unity and, united to the Apostolic See, after casting away their errors, shall enter the port of everlasting salvation.”

Patriarch Kirill could not have asked for a better outcome as “ecumenism” triumphs again: those separated from Catholic unity remain right where they are, and the Catholic party in essence agrees that they ought to.

Second, for “the first time in history” a Pope met with a patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Again, so what?  Post-Vatican II popes have almost routinely met with the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, currently Bartholomew I, who is considered “first among equals” in the Orthodox episcopate and thus the closest thing to an Orthodox pope, even if the Russian Orthodox Church is the wealthiest and most powerful of the 14 Orthodox branches by virtue of its symbiotic relations with the Kremlin.

So, the one who gained enormously from this meeting was Kirill.  As George Demacopoulos, the Greek-Orthodox chairman of Orthodox Christian studies at Fordham University in New York, explains: “This isn’t benevolence. It’s not a newfound desire for Christian unity. It is almost entirely about (Kirill) posturing and trying to present himself as the leader of Orthodoxy.”

Third, Francis has once again allowed himself to be used by Raul Castro and the Castro regime to enhance the credibility of their dictatorship.  The claim that Cuba was “neutral” territory for this “historic encounter” is laughable. 

As Sandro Magister observes, there was “nothing neutral or free about it… [T]he prison population, in which political prisoners abound, ‘is among the most numerous in the world,” according to the latest estimates of the bishop of Pinar del Rio, who is responsible for their pastoral care. From which they continue to flee by the thousands, crossing Central America to the United States, unless they are stopped at the border of pro-Castro Nicaragua.” Moreover, “when pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio went to Cuba last September, he did not perform even one of the many gestures of ‘mercy’ that he sows all over. Not one word for the thousands of refugees swallowed up by the sea. No request for the release of political prisoners. No show of kindness for their mothers, wives, sisters, arrested by the dozen during those same days.”

Like Kirill, the Castro brothers could not have asked for a better outcome from this meeting.

Finally, however, not all the news is bad. The joint declaration contains some remarkably forthright statements — all buried by the media — on morality and the evils of political modernity that, ironically enough, seem to have been the result of Kirill’s involvement in the document:

  • The family is the natural centre of human life and society….  [I]t is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction….The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman.
  • We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).
  • We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.
  • Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians…. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming. 
  • [W]e are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom.  It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

If only Francis had been this forthright when he addressed the United States Congress or the United Nations, or when both Ireland and the United States were on the verge of legalizing the abomination of “gay marriage” while he remained utterly silent. It seems that in order to obtain the favor of this “historic meeting” Francis agreed to a document containing statements far stronger than his usual calculated evasions of any confrontation with the political powers that be, although he is quite willing to denounce the sins of Mafiosi, environmental polluters, the wealthy, arms dealers, “rigid” Catholics and other politically safe targets. 

Then again, it is rather ridiculous to sign a document denouncing the secularization of the modern nation state and its growing persecution of Christians at a meeting hosted by a communist dictator, who was standing there as they signed it. 

The incoherence of this whole affair is but a sign of the diabolical disorientation of our time.  Yet, perhaps, in the midst of it all we can also see signs of the day when, inevitably, the Orthodox schism will be healed, East and West will be united once again under the Roman Pontiff, and the Immaculate Heart will triumph throughout the world.  All that is necessary is a Pope who will simply do the simple thing Our Lady requested instead of making elaborate voyages and signing documents while the cameras roll and the world applauds.