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ROME (AP) — The Vatican on Tuesday moved to defend Pope Francis from allegations he hasn’t come down hard enough on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, saying the pontiff clearly views the war launched by Moscow as “senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious.”

Last week, Ukraine summoned the top papal diplomat to complain about recent comments by Francis. At an audience a day earlier at the Vatican, Francis had referred to a national Russian TV commentator who was killed by a car bomb in Moscow as a “poor girl.”

Francis was speaking about the slaying of Darya Dugina, the daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin, who fiercely backs the war.

Russia has accused Ukrainian intelligence in the bombing, which Ukraine denies.

In his remarks, Francis also said orphans in Ukraine and Russia were among the “innocents” who have been victimized by the “insanity of war.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba summoned the Vatican ambassador to Kyiv last week and told reporters that “the Ukrainian heart is torn apart by the pope’s words.”

In a statement, the Vatican appeared intent Tuesday on doing damage control.

“In recent days, public discussions have arisen about the political significance to attribute” to comments by Francis, the statement said.

“The words of the Holy Father on this dramatic question should be read as a voice raised in defense of human life and of the values linked to that, and not taken as a political position,” the Vatican said. “As for as the war of wide dimensions in Ukraine, begun by the Russian Federation, the interventions of the Holy Father Francis are clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious.”

On the same day that the Ukraine slammed the pope’s remarks, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church cancelled a planned meeting with Francis for September.

Francis has said he wants to go to Ukraine if that could further the cause of peace but so far logistics have made that trip impossible for the 85-year-old pontiff who has mobility issues.


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