Polish Bishops’ Leader: Vatican’s Approach to Russia ‘Naive and Utopian’

Archbishop Gądecki acknowledged that the Holy See is committed to neutrality in international affairs.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki.
Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki. (photo: Courtesy photo / Episkopat.pl.)

WARSAW, Poland — The president of Poland’s Catholic bishops’ conference has said that the Vatican’s approach to Russia is “naive and utopian.”

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki made the remark in an interview with the Polish Catholic news agency KAI published on May 23, following a May 17-20 visit to Ukraine. 

The 72-year-old archbishop was asked about his meeting with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. 

The interviewer noted that Pope Francis had received a “special memorandum” on the Vatican’s “current Eastern policy.” It is understood that Archbishop Gądecki presented the document to the pope during a March 28 private audience.

Archbishop Gądecki told KAI: “In my opinion, the Vatican’s approach to Russia should change to a more mature one, since the past and present approach seems very naive and utopian.” 

“Of course, the goal of establishing contacts and dialogue is noble, which is based on the fact that Russia is big and deserves respect. But this is not accompanied by sufficiently serious reflection on the Vatican’s part.” 

He went on: “For Russia, the Vatican is an important entity, but at the same time it should be humiliated, as Putin himself has shown several times by being intentionally late by several hours for a scheduled meeting with the pope.” 

Archbishop Gądecki was referring to meetings between the Russian president and the Pope at the Vatican in 2013, 2015, and 2019. Putin was reportedly 50 minutes late for the papal audience in 2013, 70 minutes late in 2015, and nearly an hour late in 2019.

The archbishop added: “The Holy See should understand that in its relations with Russia it should be more cautious, to say the least, because from the experience of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, it seems that lying is second nature to Russian diplomacy.”

The archbishop of Poznań, west-central Poland, suggested that Vatican diplomacy had historically “underestimated” the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. 

Referring to Blessed Stefan Wyszyński, who led the Polish Church under communism, he said: “Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński tried to change this, but I do not think he succeeded. It was rather Providence, his efforts and determination, and not the efforts of the diplomacy of the Apostolic See that saved the Church in Poland. A radical change was brought only by the pontificate of John Paul II, but now we seem to be returning to the old line.”

Archbishop Gądecki acknowledged that the Holy See is committed to neutrality in international affairs. 

“Vatican diplomacy — being aware that Christians often fight on both sides — does not point to one aggressor but tries to do everything possible to reach a peaceful conclusion through diplomatic efforts,” he said. 

“But today, in the situation of war, [the Ukrainian Greek Catholic leader] Major Archbishop Shevchuk stresses, the most important thing is that the Holy See supports Ukraine at all levels and does not follow utopian ideas taken from liberation theology.”

In the interview, Archbishop Gądecki described his solidarity visit to Ukraine as part of a delegation that included Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland, and Archbishop Stanisław Budzik of Lublin, eastern Poland.

The Polish bishops met with Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki, the chairman of Ukraine’s Latin Rite bishops’ conference, in Lviv, western Ukraine, as well as Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk in Kyiv. They also visited the liberated cities of Irpin and Bucha to pray for Ukrainians killed under Russian occupation.

Archbishop Gądecki also told KAI that he had discussed his recent letter expressing “fraternal concern” over the direction of Germany’s “Synodal Way” with Archbishop Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister.

In his letter to German bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing, Archbishop Gądecki questioned whether the initiative bringing together Germany’s bishops and laypeople was rooted in the Gospel.

“Archbishop Gallagher informed me that [Vatican Secretary of State] Cardinal Parolin was grateful for the letter to Georg Bätzing, the president of the German episcopate, in which I took up a critique of the German synodal path,” the Polish archbishop said in the interview.