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Series: The Pope and the War

by Regina Elsner, Pavlo Smytsnyuk, Thomas Mark Németh, and Greg Marcar

This series explores how Pope Francis as the head of the Catholic Church and the Vatican deals with the Russia-Ukraine war.

Many observers call the Pope’s approach ambiguous. On the one hand, the Catholic Church has provided humanitarian support to Ukrainians affected by the war from its very beginning in 2014. For example, from 2016 to 2018 the Catholic Church raised almost €16 million through the “Pope for Ukraine” initiative and funded several programs for internally displaced people and those living in the combat zone. Such programs provided mobile health clinics, food vouchers, and psychological help for adults and minors; and repaired and insulated houses damaged by the war. Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Pope Francis has made several public speeches and gestures in support of Ukrainian victims of the war and has tried to advance humanitarian efforts—including attempts to facilitate the return to Ukraine of Ukrainian children deported by Russia—and to highlight the moral catastrophe of the Bucha massacre and similar crimes.

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… As an outsider, I always try to enter a space with humility. I also think it’s equally valuable for clergy, whether they are serving as mediators or negotiators, to be humble (and many of them are). I feel and demonstrate that I am open to advice on how to deal with the problem. [But] once I had an experience with a member of the clergy who had no interest in talking to parents of a Bar Mitzvah boy about their expectations [for the ceremony]. It was a straight line—God, Halakha, rabbi—you (parents) follow. I found this attitude deeply unsatisfying, to say the least. Humility on all sides is one of those things that helps resolve disputes. The other thing is curiosity: “Let me understand why this is important to you; let me understand where you are coming from; tell me more about that.” For me, the best conversations in the Torah occur when people are curious—when they want to know more. Both humility and curiosity are values that are consistent with our religious tradition and are effective in terms of resolving disputes.

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On 29 June 2023, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina, declaring race-based college affirmative action programs unconstitutional. In a 6-3 vote, the justices held that the admissions programs at these universities violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Paul Gowder of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law criticizes the decision, but also the use of diversity as a justification for affirmative action. Gowder argues that there are ethically better justifications for affirmative action and explains where he sees hope for advancing equality in U.S. higher education.

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… The Vatican has become a useful aide to the ROC’s strategy, mainly thanks to its ostensible neutrality, which prohibits it from pronouncing clear judgments on who is to blame for the war. This neutrality is a much-praised feature of Vatican diplomacy, as it is supposed to make it possible to talk to all involved parties, no matter how hardened the conflict. The official, largely silent attitude of Pius XII toward Hitler’s regime in World War II is frequency cited as a comparison to the present Vatican’s neutrality. However, the Cold War is a more helpful comparison here. As Piotr H. Kosicki shows in his recent contribution “No neutrality in ideology”, it is in the second half of the 20th century that the Vatican complemented its political and legal neutrality with an ideological partisanship—namely, a clear anti-communist stance expressed in its commitment to human rights, for example, during the Helsinki process.

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Human Dignity Initiative

Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with an invitation to a global conversation about preserving and protecting human dignity for everyone everywhere.

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