French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said the Russian Orthodox Church was allowing itself to be manipulated by the country's authorities to justify their war in Ukraine and urged it to resist such pressure.
Macron, who is on an official visit to Italy, spoke in a keynote speech at an international conference organised by Italy's Sant' Egidio Community, a worldwide peace and charity group.
The Russian Orthodox Church's number two, Metropolitan Anthony, sat in the front row of the conference hall with other religious leaders as Macron spoke.
The French president dedicated much of his speech at the conference, whose title is "The Cry for Peace", to Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has given enthusiastic backing to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which the patriarch views as a bulwark against a West he calls decadent.
"Religious leaders also have a role of resistance when faced with the folly of these events," he said, referring to the war in Ukraine.
"We know well how the Orthodox religion today is being manipulated by those in power in Russia to justify their actions," Macron said. "Resistance is needed here."
Macron said resistance meant "never justifying, never falling into the trap, not backing political projects that tend to negate the dignity of every individual".
Reuters approached Metropolitan Anthony in the conference hall after Macron's speech but he declined to comment.
Kirill's stance on Ukraine has also caused a rift with the Vatican and unleashed an internal rebellion that has led to the severing of ties by some local Orthodox Churches with the Russian Orthodox Church.
France has repeatedly stressed the importance of keeping Western diplomatic channels to Moscow open since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and in another part of his speech, Macron said he believed there was a chance for peace in Ukraine, even as Russia warned the conflict there could escalate.
Macron met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the conference. He is due to meet with Pope Francis on Monday at the Vatican and both of them are due to close the conference on Tuesday at the Colosseum.