As we noted, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta recently served as an official of the Holy See. Then a northern-Argentinian court convicted him of sexual abuse and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison.
I have been studying the court’s 98-page ruling. It includes a lot of facts, as well as certain crucial ideas about the crime of sexual abuse. I will offer a summary as soon as I can.
I have also been praying long and hard about war-torn Ukraine. And I have read a lot to try to understand what is happening…
Us older Americans remember how it felt to be on a war footing with Russia.
I remember our U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union at the time.
The Brezhnev Doctrine justified the armed suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. That second invasion brought an end to the short period of U.S.-Soviet ‘detente’ in the 1970’s, when we signed significant arms-control treaties.
I remember President Ronald Reagan unveiling our “Strategic Defense Initiative” in 1983. It envisioned technology that could repel a Soviet nuclear strike on us. That same year, we all watched The Day After, a tv movie about life after a nuclear war. Thoroughly terrifying.
The thing is, the early 80s were an anxious time, but it was nothing compared to now.
The cool-down in U.S.-Russia relations in the early 80s gave way to the biggest thaw of all: Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the U.S.S.R. He repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine. Then he allowed the Soviet Union to collapse altogether, without taking any military action to stop it.
The Iron Curtain fell. Germany re-united as one nation. Numerous Soviet ‘republics,’ including Ukraine, declared themselves independent of Russia. And the new President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, became a genuine friend of President Bill Clinton.
In other words, in the early 90’s, we experienced euphoria. We could hardly believe it. The Cold War with Russia was over.
Some regrettable things have happened since then, which I plan to get into soon. But for now my point is:
The situation we Americans face now is worse than the Cold War of the last century. I have no doubt that we will deal with it; we have dealt with graver things, and lived to tell the tale. But the fact remains:
A war criminal (with a world-view that we can barely understand) views us as an immediate threat to his nation’s survival. He has an arsenal that can kill us all.
This is real. And it isn’t even the hardest part of the situation.
We can understand Vladimir Putin’s point-of-view, if we try. Russia has never been a ‘nation-state’ as we Western countries generally understand the term–that is, without subjugated ‘client’ states. (Ukraine hasn’t been a Western-style nation-state, either, for that matter, until recently.)
When we consider the Ukraine that is under attack, we see something lovely being grievously harmed. Lovely as in: a people occupying a homeland with a distinct national identity, with the sovereign right to form alliances as they choose. A nation like France, or Italy, or the U.S.A.
But the governing class of Russia sees something totally different. They see a threat to their own identity. A threat grave enough to justify apparently* barbaric coercive tactics.
(* I add “apparently” only because, during a war, it is impossible to know the full truth about what is going on. But I don’t really doubt the barbarity of the coercive tactics that Russia is using.)
The hardest part of all this, for us Americans, is: How do we fit into it?
On the one hand, we face an immediate threat to our own most-precious interest. Russia has missiles that can kill us. Therefore it would seem prudent for us to de-escalate tensions with Russia.
On the other hand, we have moved very quickly in the other direction. We are participating in a huge, 21st-century “blockade.” And it seems necessary to do this, because Putin’s war has fundamentally destabilized the international consensus. Everyone must respect the territorial integrity of other nations. If we don’t all play by that rule, we don’t have the interconnected world of mutual trust that we have gotten used to living in.
The sanctions “blockade” has dragged us into World War III. It is a coercive tactic on our part, used against a sudden enemy–the most dangerous foreign enemy we have had since Britain launched the War of 1812.
And the situation rightly reminds us of World War I, also: It involves a complex web of alliances–alliances we must honor, if we want a world of trust based on rules.
This is seriously bad place for us to be. But we don’t really have a choice.
A century ago, a similar bloody war happened in Ukraine. It broke out in the middle of WWI, in 1917.
On the day that the Russian czar abdicated, Ukraine formed part of his empire. Then Russia fell into chaos.
Ukraine declared independence in early 1918. But then the Ukrainians had to appeal to Germany for protection from the Bolshevik faction of the Russian civil war. Ukraine became one of the bloody battlefields of that war. When Germany lost WWI, Ukraine had to submit to Lenin.
It all began the same year that Our Lady appeared in Fatima and first asked that the pope consecrate “Russia” to her Immaculate Heart.
The Roman- and Ukrainian-Catholic bishops of Ukraine have asked Pope Francis to do this consecration now, and the Holy Father will do it on Friday.
I will pray with the Holy Father and the Catholic clergy of the world, in my own little hermitage. May our Lady protect Ukraine and all of us.
But I don’t mind saying that I feel odd about this particular way of praying for peace now.
In the Fatima apparitions, Our Lady spoke of “Russia”–in 1917, and again in 1929. When she did, her listeners certainly understood “Russia” to include Ukraine. Ukraine did not exist as a sovereign state in 1917. And its ‘independence’ in 1929 was thoroughly compromised by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet dictatorship. Today’s Ukrainians do not consider their nation to have been truly independent of Russia in 1929, notwithstanding its on-paper status then.
Why would we pray for peace now in accord with private apparitions from some of the darkest days of the last century? I for one think we would do better to leave the 20th century behind us, as much as possible. (We seem to have a hard time doing that.)
For me the best prayer for peace in Ukraine is the Eucharistic Prayer. It’s a prayer that belongs to the entire universal Church, without historical connections that evoke painful memories for Ukrainians and Russians alike.
That said, I will nonetheless certainly pray with our Holy Father on Friday.
These are agonizing times. May our Lady watch over us. May the good Lord deliver us.