Pope Francis calls out Russian Orthodox Church leader for acting like 'Putin's altar boy'
Pope Francis (Shutterstock)

Pope Francis says that he has told the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, not to "transform himself into Putin's altar boy" by continuing to justify the Russian president's unprovoked attack on Ukraine.

In an interview published on Tuesday by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera and reported by CNN, the Pope revealed that he had spoken to Kirill March 16. The Catholic leader sharply criticized the patriarch for parroting Putin's justifications for the brutal assault.

"I spoke to him for 40 minutes via Zoom," the Pope said. "The first 20 minutes he read to me, with a card in hand, all the justifications for war. I listened and told him: I don't understand anything about this. Brother, we are not clerics of state, we cannot use the language of politics but that of Jesus."

Francis said that during the conference call he and the Patriarch had agreed to postpone a meeting they had scheduled for June 14 in Jerusalem.

"It would be our second face-to-face meeting, nothing to do with the war," the Pope said. "But now, he too agrees: let's stop, it could be an ambiguous signal."

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Kirill has echoed Putin's stated justifications for invading Ukraine, saying the war is an extension of a fundamental culture clash between the Russian world and Western liberal values. The Russian cleric has said he fully supports Putin's efforts to reestablish a Russian empire in which the Orthodox religion plays a pivotal role.