ROME – Confirming remarks by a Russian government spokesperson, the Vatican said Thursday that Pope Francis has apologized for controversial recent remarks that Russian minorities are responsible for the most “cruel” acts in the ongoing war in Ukraine.

In a statement to journalists Dec. 15, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said, “I can confirm, regarding the comments made by the Russians about the apology from the Vatican, that there have been diplomatic contacts in this regard.”

Bruni’s statement came after Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova at a briefing in Moscow said that, “A message has been received from the Vatican through diplomatic channels, which contains an official statement on behalf of the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Pietro Parolin, in connection with the statement of the Pope.”

This message, Zakharova said, states that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State “apologizes to the Russian side” and voices the Holy See’s “deep respect for all the peoples of Russia, their dignity, faith and culture, as well as for other countries and peoples of the world.”

“The ability to admit one’s mistakes is becoming less and less common in modern international communication,” Zakharova said, saying the Holy See’s message “shows that behind the Vatican’s calls for dialogue is the ability to conduct this dialogue and listen to interlocutors.”

Pope Francis caused a minor diplomatic row last month when, in an interview with Jesuit-sponsored America magazine, he defended his actions on both China and Russia against critics who argue that he has been excessively silent.

Reflecting on the human cost of the war, the pope said that ever since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, he has received “much information about the cruelty of the troops.”

“As a rule, the most cruel, perhaps, are those who are from Russia, but do not adhere to the Russian tradition, such as Chechens, Buryats and so on,” he said, referring to two ethnic minorities who often supply front-line troops in Russia’s conflicts.

Chechens, from the south-west of Russia, are mostly Muslim, while Buryats are a Mongol ethnic group indigenous to eastern Siberia who traditionally follow Buddhist and shamanic beliefs.

Francis’s comment was met with intense blowback from several Russian officials, as well as representatives of the Chechen and Buryat communities, with Zakharova recently suggesting that as a result of the remarks, the Vatican had lost its credibility as potential moderator in peace negotiations.

During her briefing, Zakharova called the Vatican’s apology “truly respectful,” saying, “We believe that this incident has been settled and look forward to continuing constructive interaction with the Vatican.”

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