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The Francis-Kirill Declaration:
A Dead Letter Already?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 18, 2016

In my last column on this subject I noted the positive elements in the Joint Declaration signed by Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill during their rather incoherent encounter in Cuba. I also noted my impression that the document’s strong statements condemning abortion, defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman open to procreation, calling upon Europe to recover its Christian soul and its Christian roots, and decrying the persecution of Christians by modern secular nation-states “seem to have been the result of Kirill’s [i.e. the Kremlin’s] involvement in the document.”

My impression has been confirmed by subsequent events.  I suppose it is hardly surprising that no sooner had the document been signed than Francis, ever the prudent politician, began to run away from it.  During the in-flight press conference on the way from Cuba to Mexico, Francis immediately began to minimize the import of the document’s anti-liberal declarations, stating that the document “is not a political Declaration, is not a sociological Declaration, it is a pastoral declaration, even when it speaks of secularism and biogenetic manipulation and all of these things.  But it is pastoral: by two bishops who met with a pastoral concern.” 

Figuratively tossing the document aside, Francis told the press: “But if there is any doubt, Father Lombardi will be able to explain the true meaning of the thing.”  The thing? In other words, political leaders and social planners should pay “the thing” no attention. And pay it no attention they did — along with the press, which completely buried its politically incorrect contents.

Tellingly, even before it was signed the document was minimized by one of the Pope’s mouthpieces, fellow Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, S.J., who conducted the now infamous interview of Francis in La Civiltà Cattolica (wherein Francis belittles the Church’s supposed “obsession” with abortion, “gay marriage” and contraception and her — never identified — “small-minded rules”). According to Spadaro, “what will be written in that declaration matters little, all things considered.  What matters, however, is the meeting.” Indeed, that does seem to be what matters from Francis’ point of view: the event as opposed to the contents of the declaration or indeed any imagined progress toward ending the Orthodox schism, which clearly is of no concern to him whatsoever although it stands at the heart of the events at Fatima.

Thus, as the well-connected Vatican Insider reported beforehand, in order to obtain the meeting Francis “agreed to the proposals which arrived from Moscow regarding the place and mode of the meeting as well as the contents of the declaration that will be signed by the two.” And in that document are found precisely “themes and hints on which for some time the Patriarch of Moscow has concentrated in his public and ‘political interventions’” — but certainly not themes on which Francis has been concentrating or even mentioning.

As the Rorate Caeli blogsite rather bluntly put it: “Pope Francis needed the Moscow Patriarch to force him to say some obvious things.”  But, having said them, it seems Francis has no intention of ever saying them again, as we see from his latest “Liberation theology tour” now winding up in Mexico, where he prayed at the tomb of a rebel Marxist bishop, Samuel Ruiz Garcia of the diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, who was denounced by the Congregation for Bishops and asked to resign by the Papal Nuncio (he refused) on account of his gross deviations from the Faith and his substantial destruction of Catholic fidelity among the laity in the local Church.

In an article entitled “What is the Pope’s signature worth?”, the Italian Catholic blogsite, noting Francis’ immediate efforts to minimize the declaration he had just signed, concluded: “There is, however, a not-unimportant ‘but’: the Pope signed it.  Even solemnly. And so the question presents itself: what is the signature of Pope Francis worth in this case?”

What indeed?