Pope Francis Hosts Syrian War Boosters

The Vatican is disturbingly friendly with allies of the Middle East’s bloodiest regime

Pope Francis Hosts Syrian War Boosters Pope Francis Hosts Syrian War Boosters

Uncategorized December 4, 2013 0

Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis at the vatican on Nov. 25, 2013. Russia state media photo Pope Francis Hosts Syrian War Boosters The Vatican... Pope Francis Hosts Syrian War Boosters
Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis at the vatican on Nov. 25, 2013. Russia state media photo

Pope Francis Hosts Syrian War Boosters

The Vatican is disturbingly friendly with allies of the Middle East’s bloodiest regime

On Nov. 25, the head of the Roman Catholic Church hosted Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin to discuss the Syrian civil war. The meeting, as it was described by the Vatican, centered on “favoring negotiation and involving the various ethnic and religious groups, recognizing their essential role in society.”

Not surprisingly, the meeting and its descriptions by the official parties was consistent with the Vatican’s delicate line regarding Syria, marked by an absence of blame for the violence which has killed more than 125,000 people and displaced millions. But another Vatican spokesman was more charitable to the Kremlin when he described that Pope Francis “expressed deep gratitude for Russia’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict.”

This, to put it frankly, is bullshit.

The Kremlin has maintained material links with the regime of Pres. Bashar Al Assad. While Russia orchestrated a deal for international inspectors to monitor and destroy Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles, there is no mandate preventing Russia from continuing to supply the regime—as it has done—with parts for attack helicopters, anti-air and anti-tank weapons.

And despite the Vatican’s praise for the Kremlin’s peacemaking, Russian diplomats at the U.N. Security Council have blocked sanctions and resolutions aimed at removing Al Assad from power.

The Vatican’s caution may reflect the increasing vulnerability of Syrian Christians targeted by Islamist militias for their faith and a perceived association with the regime—and by criminal groups who exploit the vacuum of security.

In recent days, opposition fighters kidnapped 12 Greek Orthodox nuns from a Christian village of Maaloula. This also followed the disappearances of a priest and two bishops who were taken by gunmen and haven’t been heard from since.

This is also despite the fact that Christians are fighting on both sides of the conflict. On the side of the opposition, Christian commanders hold prominent positions in the Syrian National Council. Christian militia fighters fearing Islamist rule, however, have joined up with paramilitary units loyal to the regime.

Yet merely five days after Putin’s visit to the Vatican, the Pope hosted as a guest Gregorios Laham III, the patriarch of the Church of Antioch and leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church—an autonomous, Damascus-based Eastern church in communion with the Vatican.

Gregorios Laham III. Wikimedia photo

Though the Pope called for “mutual respect among [Syria’s] various religious denominations to ensure everyone a future based on inalienable human rights,” left unsaid is the patriarch’s one-sided relationship with the sectarian minority rule of the Al Assad regime.

Open Doors International, a non-denominational Christian ministry that aims to prevent the persecution of Christians, described Laham as having “openly sided” with Assad.

Claude Dagens, the French bishop of Angoulême, alleged Laham “is an ally politically and financially” of Al Assad, according to the Catholic newsweekly The Tablet. Dagens went on to accuse Laham of conspiring to scuttle an October 2012 peace delegation of cardinals to Syria—an allegation which Laham denied and called “defamatory.” The Vatican did not respond to a request for comment.

But Laham’s own statements reflect a creeping sympathy with the regime. Laham has described the Syrian opposition as “terrorists” and referred to the opposition—according to the Italian newspaper La Stampaas ”non-existent … which has no authority on the ground in Syria.”

This is was while Laham opposed a U.S. intervention in Syria by equating it as “no less serious than the use of chemical weapons.”

Much more gravely, in August the patriarch ruled out changing the regime. “Instead of trying to change the government, help the government to change,” he said, according to the independent Catholic News Service. “We are all for change. We are all for reforms. But not in this way, with blood.”

There are two related problems with Laham’s words—and the Vatican’s apparent tolerance. First is his suggestion that the war can end with reconciliation absent the removal of Al Assad from power.

For one, the Al Assad regime is based—and has been since Bashar’s father Hafez Al Assad purged his Baathist rivals in a 1970 coup—on privileged control of the military and intelligence services by the Syrian Alawite minority. Likewise, this clannish regime attacked peaceful demonstrations for majority rule with tank fire before the uprising mutated into a civil war.

The way the regime has gone on to fight it? With arms and advisers sent by Iran—Assad’s chief sponsor—and armed fighters from Al Assad’s and Iran’s mutual client in the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah. Al Assad, pressing the fundamentally sectarian nature of the regime during a 2001 visit by Pope John Paul II, slandered Jews as having “betrayed Jesus Christ,” echoing what The New York Times described as an attempt by regime officials “to press the Roman Catholic Church to make common cause against Judaism.”

Al Assad’s hasn’t abandoned his divide-and-rule strategy—and the multiplying hatreds it has spawned. No one should anyone be fooled. That includes the leader of the Catholic Church.