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The Pope’s Russia problem

Frederick Lauritzen

3rd September 2023


Pope Francis on August 25th praised Russian imperialism. He named Peter the Great and Catherine II as great examples of Russian culture. 

“You are the descendants of great Russia: the great Russia of saints, rulers, the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that empire – educated, great culture and great humanity.”

He did this for a Catholic audience in Russia who was watching his speech at the Meeting of the Catholic Youth of Russia via video link from the church of Saint Catherine’s in Saint Petersburg (1783). The church was built by Catherine II for her Polish friend, Stanislas II Augustus Poniatowski, last king of Poland before Russia annexed a large part of it (third partition of Poland in 1795). She brought the treasures of the entire country from Poland to Russia. These were returned after 1921 when Poland defeated the Soviet Union and asked these state treasures to be given back to Poland (among which were the tents of Kara Mustafa from the siege of Vienna in 1683, seized by Jan III Sobieski). The body of Stanislas II Augustus Poniatowski was sent back to Poland before the church of Saint Catherine’s was turned into a storeroom by Stalin.

The Pope is now promoting Russian culture and imperialism. This is ironic given that when Pope Clement XIV abolished the Jesuit order in 1773, it was Frederick the Great of Prussia (1740-1786) and Catherine II of Russia (1762-1796) who refused to enact the Catholic law and allowed them to continue within their realms. Jesuits were protected by an Orthodox and a Protestant ruler.

Pope Francis is praising Catherine II, who partitioned Poland and refused to enact papal rules concerning the Catholic church within her country.

The Russian attitude towards the Jesuit order and Catholic church created the extraordinary image of corruption and bigotry of the Grand Inquisitor written by Dostoyevsky in his novel Brothers Karamazov (1880).

Several Catholics within NATO are astonished by the Pope’s preference for Russian Orthodox political power as interpreted in the Kremlin over the Catholic faithful. 

There are 750,000 Catholics in Russia. There are 4.5-6.5 million Catholics in Ukraine.

Poland, which is Catholic by vast majority, is opposed to Russia, especially because of the invasion of Ukraine. Poland has 33 million registered Catholics. 

The Pope seems unaware of the fundamental anti-Catholic bias of the Russian Orthodox. He does not seem to care. He is not interested in the anti-Russian bias of many eastern European Catholics. 

The Pope’s statement reveals that he is not pro-Russia, he is anti-NATO. Most of his priestly life (ordained in 1969) was served in the obedience of John Paul II, a Polish Pope who actively worked to facilitate the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pope Francis served and obeyed John Paul II from 1978 to 2005.

It is a new world: the Pope appears more concerned with extra-European questions. The country which unofficially is worried about NATO and losing Russia, as a potential ally, is China. There are 1.4 million Catholics in China. The economic growth of China would mean that they could contribute more significantly to Vatican finances. 


The anti-NATO position is surprising, given that the alliance is not fighting at the moment.

The President of Ukraine on  December 13th of last year, on the Letterman Show, made a joke about two men who are discussing the war:

“Who is fighting?”

“NATO and Russia”

“How is it going?”

“There is tremendous loss of life, equipment, and the economy is bad for Russia”

“And NATO?”

“NATO hasn’t appeared yet”.

Technically NATO is at peace. The Pope is against a group of countries which represent over 250 million Catholics. He is in favour of an Orthodox country which has aggressed a neighbouring  nation with an Orthodox majority of more than 70 percent of the population. Many Catholics are looking in disbelief. The Pope’s problem is Russia.

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