ROME — The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has canceled his planned attendance at an interfaith meeting in Kazakhstan next month where he was expected to meet with Pope Francis, a top Orthodox official said, in a sign of further deterioration in relations over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, head of foreign relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, was quoted by the Ria Novosti news agency as saying that Patriarch Kirill would not be attending the Sept. 13-15 meeting and that therefore any meeting with Francis was off.
Kirill has justified the invasion of Ukraine on spiritual and ideological grounds, calling it a “metaphysical” battle with the West. He has blessed Russian soldiers going into battle and invoked the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are one people.
Francis had confirmed as recently as last month that he would meet with Kirill at the Kazakh meeting in what would have been the second-ever encounter between a pope and a Russian patriarch. The first was in 2016 and their second had been planned for June but was postponed over the diplomatic fallout of the war.
Francis has denounced the war in Ukraine but has tried to keep a door open to dialogue with Moscow, refraining from condemning Russia, President Vladimir Putin or Kirill by name. His balanced approach has angered Kyiv, which this week condemned his comments lamenting that innocents on both sides were paying the price of war.
Francis made those comments Wednesday as he marked six months of war and referred to the weekend car bomb slaying in Moscow of Darya Dugina, a nationalist Russian TV commentator and daughter of the right-wing Russian political theorist, Alexander Dugin, who ardently supports the war.
Francis listed the “poor girl” killed by a car bomb in Moscow, as well as orphans in Ukraine and Russia, among the “innocents” who have been victimized by the “insanity of war.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, said Francis’ words were “disappointing” by seemingly equating “aggressor & victim, rapist and raped.” In a tweet Wednesday, he asked how it was possible for Francis to cite an “ideologist of imperialism as innocent victim?”