US attempt to ‘lecture the Pope’ before Putin meeting a ‘big responsibility’ to take – Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with Pope Francis during a meeting in Vatican City, June 10, 2015. (Reuters/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)
During their conversation, Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin touched on the issue of Ukraine, the Russian president’s spokesman said, noting that US advice on what concerns should be raised, was an attack on sovereignty and an attempt to lecture the Pope.

Just hours before the meeting between visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin and His Holiness Pope Francis, the US ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett encouraged the pontiff to take a tougher stance against Vladimir Putin. In particular, Hackett said the Vatican “could say more about concerns on territorial integrity”.

“Maybe this is an opportunity for the Holy Father to privately raise those concerns,” Hackett said. Pope Francis had “certainly” been made aware of the violence in Ukraine and was not unaware of the crisis, he added.

However, at the hour-long private audience with the Russian President, the Pope took a neutral stance. He urged for more humanitarian assistance, which Russia already provides, and for a peaceful solution to the crisis via Minsk II roadmap.

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“It was agreed on the importance to restore a climate of dialogue and that all parties commit themselves to implement the agreements Minsk,” Holy See said in a statement. “Also essential is the commitment to address the serious humanitarian situation, including by ensuring access to humanitarian agents and with the contribution of all parties to a progressive relaxation in the region.”

The apparent move by Washington to interfere with talks and exert influence on the foreign policy of another state has been condemned by the Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

“This is surely a blatant attempt in suppressing sovereignty of other nations,” Peskov told Russian media. “This is what the Russian President never agreed with, and now categorically opposes.”

Lecturing, or even “pretending to have the right to lecture the Pope of Rome” is surely a “new move” in international diplomacy, and a “big responsibility,” Dmitry Peskov noted.

Putin and Pope Francis had a “profound” discussion that focused on a number of issues. They have discussed the threat posed by radical Islam to Christian communities in Syria. They have also discussed common values that unite Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and other world religions.

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During the private meeting in the library of the Apostolic Palace, Putin and the Pope exchanged gifts. President Putin gave Francis an embroidered panel depicting the Christ the Savior Cathedral, while the Pope presented a medallion depicting an angel of peace who brings justice and solidarity.

The meeting with Pope Francis was Putin’s second. The two men champion similar conservative values in a rapidly changing world, as well as concerns for emerging threats to Christianity. During their last meeting in 2013, Putin and the Pope discussed the dangers that Christians face in the Middle East at the hands of radical Islamists.