President Vladimir Putin arrived in Rome earlier today, November 25, for a meeting with Pope Francis. According to the Kremlin, discussions during the meeting will largely revolve around the Syrian Crisis, as well as mending the Vatican’s relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church.
The two men have vastly different views on the aforementioned issues and many others—like homosexuality. Perhaps surprisingly, it is the pope who stands with LGBT people of faith, while Putin condemns them. The Russian president passed numerous anti-gay laws over the summer, including a ban on couples that are LGBT or from countries with marriage equality from adopting Russian children, as well as a law that allows Russian police to arrest suspected gay or pro-gay tourists.
In the same month, Pope Francis warmed the hearts of many, Catholic or otherwise, when he said it was not his place to judge gays and lesbians.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” said the pontiff.
It is important to note that Pope Francis did not state that homosexuality is not sinful, but rather that it should not be treated more harshly than any other sin—you know, like, eating bacon (Leviticus 11:7-8), premarital sex (Deuteronomy 22:22-21), gossip (Leviticus 19:16), or tattoos (Leviticus 19:28).
The pope has made a variety of like statements and public displays of compassion, earning him a reputation as the Pope Who Cares, if you will. Just last week in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff blessed a man with a disfigured face caused by a condition known as neurofibromatosis. The man told reporters he “felt only love” when Pope Francis embraced him.
And because he’s also the hip and trendy pope, Francis tweeted the following message to his virtual congregation:
Take care of God’s creation. But above all, take care of people in need.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) November 14, 2013
Putin, a deeply religious man, is the first Kremlin leader since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution to publicly profess faith in the Orthodox Church. However, Father Kirill Gorbunov, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, maintains that Putin is there, first and foremost, as the president of Russia.
“Putin will be meeting Pope Francis as the president of Russia, and then only secondly as a Russian Orthodox [Christian],” said Gorbunov.
While we can hope the topic of fair treatment of Russian gays will come up, it’s a safe bet that Syria will be the priority.
Pope Francis believes the only chance at diminishing the carnage of the Syrian civil war is through Russian intervention. On September 4, the pontiff addressed a letter to “His Excellency, Mr. Vladimir Putin,” in which he implored the president to come to a peaceful resolution with Syria.
“To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of military solution [in Syria],” wrote Francis. “Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community.”
If you need a crash course on the issues of the Syrian crisis, the Washington Post published a helpful article answering some common questions.