In his latest tone-deaf comment on Vladimir Putin’s ruthless invasion of Ukraine, Pope Francis referred to Darya Dugina, a Russian propagandist and daughter of top ally to Vladimir Putin, as an innocent victim of war.
The pontiff made the comment to thousands of people gathered at his weekly Wednesday audience in Rome. “I think of that poor girl blown up by a bomb under her car seat in Moscow,” he said, referring to the targeted attack carried out over the weekend. “The innocent pay for war. The innocent! Let us think about this reality and say to each other: War is madness.”
Madness it may be, but many would argue that Dugina, whose father is referred to as “Putin’s brain” is not exactly innocent. As a journalist, she had pushed the “de-nazification” of Ukraine as a basis for the six-month old invasion. At a memorial service, she was lauded as a “warrior for the sovereignty of Russia.”
Francis’ comments were met by angry responses. Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See Andrii Yurash tweeted his dismay. “Today’s speech of Pope was disappointing & made me think about many things: can’t speak in same categories about aggressor & victim, rapist and raped,” he wrote, adding that Dugina was reportedly killed by Russians, and that it was impossible to mention one of the “ideologists of imperialism as innocent.”
It is not the first time this pope has misread the room on the ongoing battle. Early on in the invasion, he drew scorn for being one of the only world leaders not to condemn Putin for the invasion, lowering him to the ranks of Kim Jong Un and Jair Bolsonaro.
In May he insisted he could not go to Kyiv without fist visiting Moscow to try to negotiate peace, and that the war started because of NATO, which he said was “barking at Putin’s door,” which in turn caused Russia to “react badly and unleash the conflict.”
He later gave an interview to a Jesuit magazine in which he pushed the conspiracy further, urging people to rethink Putin as the primary foe. “We need to move away from the usual Little Red Riding Hood pattern, in that Little Red Riding Hood was good and the wolf was the bad one,” he said. “Something global is emerging and the elements are very much entwined.”
The pontiff has also raised eyebrows regarding his upcoming trip to Kazakhstan in September, where he is expected to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in person. Francis had previously had a Zoom meeting with him and asked him not to be Putin’s “altar boy.”