Pope Misattributes Quote From Putin to Angela Merkel While Chastising West on Afghanistan

Pope Francis criticized the West's decades-long campaign to institute democracy in Afghanistan, using a quote he attributed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but the words actually came from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Associated Press reported.

Francis was participating in a Wednesday radio interview when he was asked about Afghanistan's political future in light of the U.S. military withdrawal. The pope said that he would respond with a quote from Merkel, "one of the world's greatest political figures."

"It is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of intervening from outside and building democracy in other countries, ignoring the traditions of the peoples," the pope said, translating the quote into Spanish.

Putin made the remark on August 20 during Merkel's visit to Moscow, the AP said. The Russian president was criticizing nations for their attempts to impose Western-style democracies in Afghanistan. Merkel asked Russia to use its connections with the Taliban to urge them to allow Afghan allies of Germany passage out of the country.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Pope Francis Misattributes Putin Quote
Pope Francis misattributed a quote from Russian President Vladimir Putin to German Chancellor Angela Merkel while criticizing the West for its involvement in Afghanistan. Above, the pope arrives for his weekly general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI hall on Wednesday. Andrew Medichini/AP Photo

During her press conference with Putin, Merkel conceded that "on another project, namely for there to be a collective position of the Afghan population for its own future, we did not achieve our goals—I want to say that very openly."

"I must say that, in our development cooperation efforts, we did not want to force any system on Afghanistan," she added. "But we saw that millions of girls were glad to go to school and that women could participate. There are many in Afghanistan who are very, very unhappy about developments now."

The pope's interview with Spain's Cadena COPE took place at the Vatican late last week. The radio station owned by Spain's Catholic bishops' conference aired the talk on Wednesday and said that its content had been vetted by the pope himself.

Francis also said that "not all eventualities were taken into account" in the departure of Western allies from Afghanistan.

"I don't know whether there will be a review or not [about what happened during the withdrawal], but certainly there was a lot of deception perhaps on the part of the new [Afghan] authorities," said the pope. "I say deceit or a lot of naivety."

He said he believed that the Vatican's top diplomat was offering to engage in Afghanistan to make sure that locals don't suffer and called for Christians across the world to engage in "prayer, penance and fasting" in the face of events in Afghanistan.

In the interview, Pope Francis addressed direct questions about his health for the first time since he underwent bowel surgery in early July.

He said that his body is adjusting well to the removal of part of his colon and that he can now eat whatever he wants and leads "a totally normal life."

He said that he expected his September 12-15 trip to Slovakia and Hungary would be as busy as previous ones and that he would continue visiting small European countries, including an upcoming tour taking him to Cyprus, Greece and Malta.

The pope also said he was expecting to appear and speak at the U.N.-sponsored COP26 climate talks in November in Glasgow, Scotland.

Merkel Meets Putin in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a joint press conference after their bilateral meeting at the Grand Kremlin Palace on August 20. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images