Pope Francis under fire after blasting US critics, praising Russian Empire

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed the pope's comments on his country.

Published: August 29, 2023 9:00am

Updated: August 29, 2023 9:01am

Pope Francis is under fire online for recent comments praising the Russian Empire and chastising U.S. critics.

"Never forget the legacy. You are the heirs of great Russia: great Russia of saints, rulers, great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that empire - great, enlightened, [country] of great culture and great humanity," Francis said, as translated, in a video message Sunday to Russian Catholic youth.

While Francis has repeatedly denounced the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin did compare himself last year to Peter I, also known as Peter the Great, for having the same goal of returning "Russian lands."

"Never give up this legacy, you are the heirs of the great Mother Russia, go ahead with it. And thank you – thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russians," Francis also said in the video, which was published on the website of Moscow's Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

Meanwhile, Francis' comments in Portugal earlier this month about U.S. critics were published Monday in the La Civilta Cattolica, or The Catholic Civilization, a Roman Jesuit periodical that frequently features the pope's statements during meetings with his followers. 

When asked for his thoughts about how many in the U.S., including bishops, criticize his leadership of the church, he said: "Those American groups you talk about, so closed, are isolating themselves. Instead of living by doctrine ... they live by ideologies. When you abandon doctrine in life to replace it with an ideology, you have lost, you have lost as in war."

Looking backward "is useless and we need to understand that there is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of matters of faith and morals," Francis also said, and he pointed to how some popes before him tolerated slavery. "In other words, doctrine also progresses, expands and consolidates with time and becomes firmer, but is always progressing."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed the pope's comments on his country.

"The Pontiff knows Russian history, and that is good. This legacy should be always carried to our youth," Peskov said, as translated by Wall Street Journal Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov.

Many online, however, were not so receptive to the pope's remarks.

"By now everyone should understand that Pope Francis is NOT a man of God but a morally bankrupt individual. The extent of his moral bankruptcy was again proven this week when he literally praised russia for its imperialism!" Case Western Reserve University economics professor Roman Sheremeta posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Others took issue with the pope's comments on progressivism.

"Many good Catholics say communist Pope has replaced Bible with 'woke' left ideology," conservative consultant Roger Stone said on X.

"I’m embarrassed as an Argentinian & a Catholic that this man is the pope," one user posted on X.

Follow Madeleine Hubbard on X or Instagram.

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