Mark Phillips, a talking head at CBS This Morning Show, appeared to suggest on his September 6 program that Pope Francis had “taken sides” with Russian President Vladimir Putin and against President Barack Obama in the ongoing debate over a military response to a poison gas attack in Syria on August 21. The newsman said that the Pope’s letter, which was addressed to all of the heads of state meeting in Moscow for the G-20 summit meeting in Moscow but delivered to Putin, “must have been music to the Russian president’s ears.”
Apparently suggesting that the influence that Pope Francis has in comparison to past holders of the Holy See is diminished, Phillips said "popes have urged peace before. Remember, John Paul II was firmly against the Gulf War. This pope, Francis, is now actively arguing against military action against Syria. And the question is, does it matter?"
Phillips said that Pope Francis’ public acts of prayer that are planned for September 7 in Rome, coupled with a call for prayer and fasting by Christians, are a "religious street protest."
Phillips said while describing the pontiff’s actions with regard to Syria:
MARK PHILLIPS: This pope with the common touch has been uncommonly active, lobbying against an attack on Syria. He's used his last two major public appearances in St. Peter's Square to appeal to world leaders – and that primarily means President Obama – not to do it....Pope Francis has followed up his appeal by writing to Vladimir Putin as current president of the G-20. 'Armed conflicts create profound divisions and deep wounds, which require many years to heal,' he said. It must have been music to the Russian president's ears.
The Pope may be taking a moral position, in his mind, but in arguing against military action, he has entered into the world of partisan international politics. He's taken sides.
The journalist also turned to a "Vatican historian" who once publicly assailed Pope Benedict XVI, the immediate predecessor of Pope Francis. Phillips neglected to identify British author Michael Walsh, a former Catholic priest and member of the Jesuits who maligned Pope Benedict when he called him a “dictator” and compared him to Islamist extremists. Walsh wrote his dissent in 2012 in the The Tablet – a journal written mostly by Catholics that frequently departs from Church doctrine. Walsh wrote, "The present Vatican regime, despite the obviously incompetent and dysfunctional administration, is a dictatorship....Whether the Pope [Benedict XVI] is a benevolent dictator or not rather depends on one's point of view, but a dictator is what he is....And what do dictatorial regimes do when they are challenged? They lash out at all possible challengers to their power base, as we have seen across North Africa and the Middle East."
The letter Pope Francis wrote to Putin and other world leaders urged them to oppose military intervention in Syria. “To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” the Pope urged. “Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community.”
The call to prayer will take place in St. Peter’s Square from 7 p.m. to midnight local time, on the vigil of the Church’s commemoration of the birth of the Virgin Mary, known also as the Queen of Peace. “Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love,” the Pope asked people around the world. “She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children!”
The Pope also tweeted his message for peace in Syria. On September 2, he wrote on his Twitter account, “War never again! Never again war!” and “How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake.” On the next day, the Pope tweeted “We want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out!” and “With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons.” Later, his message was, “With all my strength, I ask each party in the conflict not to close themselves in solely on their own interests. #prayforpeace.”
The Catholic bishops of the U.S. have written every member of Congress and asked them to deny Obama approval for striking Syria. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops have written to Obama to remind him that Pope Francis and the Catholic bishops of various Middle Eastern countries “have made it clear that a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan – the archbishop of New York - also asked Catholics to urge their representatives in Washington to vote against a military strike.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.