Pope Francis is a case study in the politics of ambiguity. He’s a master of proffering the empty gesture to the oppressed & solidarity to the power elite. Since he became pope in 2013, he has often expressed concern about the conflict in Syria, called for ceasefires & held prayer vigils. Diplomatic messages between him & Assad began then & continue till today. But Pope Francis speaks in passionate abstractions, takes no sides, makes no condemnations.
Not even the pope can play both sides of the street in a revolution against ruthless dictatorship. Especially the pope, who provides spiritual leadership to 1.3 billion Catholics, cannot equivocate. Catholic theology does not sanction mass murder nor teach that Assad will go to heaven if he makes an act of contrition before he dies. In accordance with church teachings, the pope ought to speak in an unequivocal voice & denounce Assad.
But perhaps Pope Francis isn’t so equivocal after all. In October 2016, he named archbishop Mario Zenari, the papal envoy to Syria, as a new cardinal, the highest office in the church which makes him eligible to be pope. Zenari would remain papal envoy.
Cardinal Zenari also speaks in hand-wringing abstractions about bombing & chemical attacks on civilians. One can’t tell from his statements who he is giving the naughty finger to since they can hardly be called denunciations. Would he be deported for speaking frankly? So what? Nearly half a million people have lost their lives & nearly 8 million are refugees. Zenari would merely take a plane back home. Or is it possible his political sympathies are with the Assad regime?
SANA, Syrian state media, reported January 21st that Zenari visited Aleppo to participate “in the atmosphere of joy after defeating terrorism in Aleppo.” He told a group of military, religious, & regime officials he “affirmed that Syria will achieve triumph over terrorism” & that Pope Francis considers cooperation with the Assad regime necessary. That is no longer equivocation; it is endorsement of the Assad regime & accords with other photos of Zenari meeting with Assad to deliver diplomatic messages from the pope where the two are clearly affably engaged.
On the same day SANA posted its report, Syrian journalist Kinana Allouche posted this photo on FB of herself with Cardinal Zenari. Here’s the problem with that association: in April 2016, Allouche, a reporter for pro-Assad Syrian TV, posted selfies of herself radiantly smiling with Syrian soldiers in front of the bodies of rebel soldiers. There was so much outrage on social media that Allouche was forced to take the photos down. Again, in July 2016, a video circulated seeming to show Alllouche laughing over the bodies of children killed in Aleppo while men, presumably the fathers or rescuers, are shouting at her in anger.
As we know from the conduct of US soldiers since the Vietnam War, desecrating the corpses of “enemy combatants” is a war crime & that includes posing for photos with them. Do Cardinal Zenari & Pope Francis really want to be associated with that kind of politics? Because if they do, it blows their ambiguities to hell.
Photo is Kinana Allouche & Cardinal Mario Zenari.