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Pope Francis speaking on the papal flight, April 30, 2023.Screenshot/YouTube

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Confusion has spread in recent days after Pope Francis stated there was a Vatican mission to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine, something which both countries have denied.

The past few days have seen many mixed messages from the Vatican, Ukrainian officials, and the Kremlin on the subject of the current conflict being waged between Russia and Ukraine. At the center of the confusion is a passing statement Pope Francis decided to make in his now-customary in-flight interview on the return journey from his trip to Hungary.

Francis was responding to questions about a peace process for Ukraine and Russia: in particular he was speaking about his meeting in Hungary with Metropolitan Hilarion, who led the Department of External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow for 13 years, and was commonly known as the Russian Orthodox Patriarch’s foreign minister.

“You can imagine that in this meeting we not only talked about Little Red Riding Hood, right? We talked about all these things,” said Francis on April 30. 

We talked about this because everyone is interested in the road to peace. I am willing. I am willing to do whatever needs to be done. Also, there is a mission going on now, but it is not public yet. Let’s see how… When it is public I will talk about it.

The Pope also noted how he maintains a good relationship with Hilarion’s successor – Metropolitan Anthony – and “always through him I am in connection with [Patriarch] Kirill.”

He further stated that the Vatican had served as an intermediary in “some prisoner exchange situations, and through the embassy it went well.”

This statement about a secret “mission” to enact peace garnered swift and favorable interest from the media, with praise issued for the Pope. 

Both countries deny peace talks

However, the Pope’s statement was not supported by officials from Russia or Ukraine. Speaking to journalists on May 2 about the alleged peace talks, a Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated “No, nothing is known,” according to Russian state media.

A unnamed Ukrainian official, reportedly “close” to the president stated to CNN that the country had “no knowledge” about such peace talks. “President Zelensky has not consented to any such discussions on Ukraine’s behalf,” CNN reported the official as saying May 1. “If talks are happening, they are happening without our knowledge or our blessing,” he added.

This denial was echoed by Andrii Yurash, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, who stated May 3 that “Ukraine doesn’t know about it.” Yurash added he had a private meeting scheduled with Francis for May 4, and that “I will for sure ask him what it is.”

With these interventions, both countries thus officially and categorically denied having any part in peace talks. The conclusion could be either that a) Pope Francis is lying or mistaken b) Russia and Ukraine are both lying in their public statements.

But if peace talks are indeed taking place secretly, it is not inconceivable that they would be denied by both parties – Russia and Ukraine – until an agreement had been reached. It would certainly not be without considerable, historical precedent.

Vatican doubles down 

Such was the situation as of early on May 3. But then two things happened which appeared to support the papal claims of secret peace talks.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, spoke to reporters May 3 about the alleged secret mission. 

“The Pope said that there will be a mission that will be announced at the time it will be public and I repeat the same expressions he used,” said Parolin, adding, “I will not go into details. The Pope spoke in these terms, let’s leave it to him to give any and further information.”

Parolin added how he was “surprised” by the Russian and Ukrainian denial, stating that “to my knowledge, they were and are aware.” 

The joint denial “surprises me and I don’t know what motivation or reasoning it responds to,” said Parolin.

He attributed this to miscommunication, saying: 

As far as I know, they know. Then you know how it is, amidst the maze of bureaucracy it may be that communications do not get where they are supposed to get. But mine are just interpretations, I know that both parties have been informed.

While Parolin did support the Pope’s claim in general, it appears that he made a distinction in time. Pope Francis stated a a mission is “going on now,” but Parolin appeared to state at one point that the mission had not yet begun. He paraphrased the Pope as saying: “The Pope said that there will be a mission that will be announced at the time it will be public and I repeat the same expressions he used.”

Whether the mission for peace has begun, or is only beginning, it seems clear that Parolin was supporting the Pope’s argument. 

Papal advisor supports Pontiff

On the same day, Professor Stefano Zamagni – the former president of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences – told Italian outlet Il Fatto Quotidiano that there was in fact a papal peace plan.

“The Pontiff has been working continuously on peace for more than eight months,” he said. 

Zamagni worked with Pope Benedict XVI on Caritas in Veritate and reportedly aided Pope Francis with the drafting of Laudato si. 

Zamagni stated that there was a “seven point plan” for peace which he had himself helped to write. The document was soon to be finalized, he added, saying “if not within the next few weeks, within the next three months we will certainly see whether this work for peace on the part of the Vatican will have received the green light or the red light.”

He downplayed the import of Russian and Ukrainian denials of peace talks, saying that such an action was “obvious” since “there is no official document yet.”

Such interventions from Parolin and Zamagni thus appear to lend further weight to Pope Francis’ in-flight interview comments.

Where is the truth?

However, with so many contradictory messages being issued, it is still unclear which side is being truthful and which is lying. 

If Francis is telling the truth then such a revelation is indeed noteworthy. The fact remains that such a brief, mid-flight comment was an incredibly bizarre manner for Pope Francis to reveal existence of any secret peace talks. It certainly gave the Pontiff favorable media coverage for a short while, but if the alleged peace talks had been secret until then, why would he disclose them at such a time and in such a manner?

Clearly, if the peace talks are taking place, neither the Russians nor the Ukrainians are ready to acknowledge their existence, suggesting that Francis either spoke out of turn or spoke against the truth.

But as recalled by liturgist Matthew Hazell, the late Cardinal George Pell warned that the Vatican under Francis had lost any of its former political influence. Writing his famous memo under the pseudonym “Demos,” Pell stated:

The political influence of Pope Francis and the Vatican is negligible. Intellectually, Papal writings demonstrate a decline from the standard of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict. Decisions and policies are often ‘politically correct,’ but there have been grave failures to support human rights in Venezuela, Hong Kong, mainland China, and now in the Russian invasion… No public Vatican support for the Catholic community in Ukraine, especially the Greek Catholics… The Vatican’s political prestige is now at a low ebb.

Time will tell as to the veracity of the Pope’s claims.