Just after America’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, says The Wall Street Journal, Pope Francis criticised the war with a quote he attributed to Angela Merkel: “It is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of intervening from outside and building democracy in other countries, ignoring the traditions of the peoples.” The problem was that it wasn’t Mrs Merkel who had said that – it was Vladimir Putin. That gaffe came to mind this week when, in an interview with an Italian newspaper, Francis suggested that Putin invaded Ukraine in part because Nato was “barking at Russia’s gate”. “I have no way of telling whether his rage has been provoked,” mused His Holiness, “but I suspect it was maybe facilitated by the West’s attitude.”
“What a terrible moral signal to send to dictators.” True, Francis has called for an end to the war. But he still hasn’t directly blamed Russia for starting the fight – and now he seems to think it’s Nato’s fault. The Vatican doesn’t need to align perfectly with the West or the US, of course. But there’s a limit. Pope John Paul II was a fierce critic of the Iraq War, for example, but he also called out Soviet imperialism. As the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics, the Pope can be a powerful “force for good”. Francis should wield that power more wisely.