The Vatican flag, left, flies over a Vatican office building in Rome. When the Vatican speaks, people listen. Diplomats from the Holy See may be few, but they are influential on the world scene. CNS photos/Paul Haring

Vatican voice heeded in corridors of power

  • March 24, 2022

The cause of peace in Ukraine has one sure and capable ally — Pope Francis and his diplomatic corps. 

Anne Leahy, the former Canadian ambassador to the Holy See, believes the Pope and his ambassadors can play a useful role in getting Russia and the West talking instead of fighting.

“That’s why you had Pope Francis going to the Russian embassy — which was extremely unusual, but certainly making a point,” Leahy, founding director of the Montreal Institute of International Studies at the University of Quebec and an adjunct professor in McGill University’s School of Religious Studies, told The Catholic Register.

Leahy’s experience as a diplomat in various posts in Europe and in Rome from 2008 to 2012 has left her with a deep appreciation for the Pope’s diplomats.

“I’ve encountered several in various parts of the world. Although they are few in numbers really, compared to any diplomatic service that has representation around the world, I would rank them as being very competent,” she said. “As a professional diplomatic corps, they’re very competent. And they are the only one in the world that has five centuries of experience to back them up.”

Former Ambassador to China David Mulroney has his doubts. Mulroney deplores the agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic on how bishops are appointed in China. 

“The Vatican’s reputation for sophistication in diplomacy has suffered greatly because of its inexplicable outreach to the communist regime in China,” he said in an email.

Leahy backs up Francis on the China file, pointing out “there’s no daylight between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict in relation to China.” She wonders how many Chinese Catholics would be left bishopless had the Holy See not negotiated an agreement with Beijing.

Despite his doubts about the Holy See’s diplomacy, Mulroney does believe there’s a role for the Vatican in the midst of war.

“In my view, the best and most important thing that the Vatican should be doing in Ukraine is supporting his Beatitude Major Archbishop Shevchuk in his efforts to shelter and support his flock, extending from Rome material assistance as well as the fraternal compassion and respect that the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine has been waiting for patiently,” said Mulroney.

Shevchuk has thanked Pope Francis for using his March 6 Angelus address to condemn the war and refute the Kremlin’s contention that it is only a “special military operation.” The Pope’s personal envoy, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, met with Shevchuk and Shevchuk has spoken on the phone with Pope Francis. 

Whether it’s the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States in 2014, an agreement signed at the Vatican, or the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb in 2019, the Holy See in recent years has shown itself to be quietly effective behind the scenes, Leahy said.

“You say good offices and their eyes roll, but good offices are very important,” Leahy said. “It’s the work behind the scenes, it’s the mediator, it’s the credible guarantor.”

Leahy admires the creativity of Pope Francis in sending the Papal Almoner Krajewski and Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny into the war zone, “not as emissaries to try to get people to talk, but his representatives to be close to those who are suffering,” she said.

“That’s quite visible. I haven’t noticed that the Orthodox Church has been doing that,” Leahy said.

Its evangelical purpose and the cause of the Gospel is what separates the Holy See’s diplomats from the representatives of other nations, according to Leahy.

“Some (nations) pretend to have values, but of course that’s nonsense,” she said. “But nations have interests, sometimes based on good values. But the Holy See doesn’t have temporal interests. It certainly has an evangelical message it’s got to abide by. And that is care for the people.”

That message was loud and clear when Pope Francis met virtually with Moscow Patriarch Kirill April 16, practising diplomacy between churches.

“Wars are always unjust, since it is the people of God who pay,” Pope Francis told Kirill, the Vatican News Service reports. “Our hearts cannot but weep before the children and women killed, along with all the victims of war. War is never the way. The Spirit that unites us asks us as shepherds to help the peoples who suffer from war.”

When the moment comes, the Holy See is ready to play whatever role it can in securing peace, Leahy said.

“The Pope is open to anyone who has faith in God and faith in human fraternity,” she said. “Once you declare that openness you are a credible interlocutor with just about anyone. Which is not the same as people who refuse to talk to others because they think they’re bad guys.”

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