Pope Francis declines to meet Mike Pompeo as secretary urges harder Vatican stance on China

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers his speech during the "Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom Through Diplomacy" symposium, in Rome, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Pool Photo via AP)U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers his speech during the "Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom Through Diplomacy" symposium, in Rome, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Pool Photo via AP)

ROME (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Vatican on Wednesday to join the U.S. in denouncing violations of religious freedom in China, saying the Catholic Church should be at the forefront in the fight to insist on basic human rights there.

Pompeo made the appeal at a conference on religious freedom organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. It took place at the same time the Vatican is entering into delicate negotiations with Beijing on extending its controversial agreement over bishop nominations.

In the audience was Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister, who didn't mention China in his remarks. Instead, Gallagher focused on more ideological threats to religious liberty, citing the imposition of gender ideology in the West and other types of "politically correct" legislation that he said were threats to the conscience of religious believers.

Pompeo's visit to the Vatican has been made fraught by an essay he penned earlier this month in the conservative magazine First Things suggesting that the Vatican had compromised its moral authority by signing the 2018 accord with Beijing.

Asked Wednesday how the Holy See received Pompeo's essay, Gallagher told reporters: "It was received critically."

He also said the proximity of Pompeo's visit to the U.S. election, was "one of the reasons why the Holy Father is not receiving the secretary of state." 

Pompeo, who met with the pope last year when he spoke at a similar conference, instead will meet Thursday with Gallagher and Parolin at the Vatican.

[Podcast: Why Pope Francis won’t meet with Mike Pompeo]

Pompeo, echoing the Trump administration's harsh criticism of Beijing that has increased as the U.S. Nov. 3 presidential election nears, said there was nowhere on Earth where religious liberty is more under assault than in China.

"We must support those demanding freedom in our time," Pompeo said. Citing St. John Paul II, retired Pope Benedict XVI and even Pope Francis, Pompeo urged a greater commitment from faith leaders to stand up for all religious believers.

"To be a church 'permanently in a state of mission' has many meanings," Pompeo said, quoting Francis. "Surely one of them is to be a church permanently in defense of basic human rights."

The Vatican has defended its agreement with China, saying it is purely an ecclesial matter about bishop nominations and is not a political or diplomatic accord. Gallagher said the Holy See, in all its diplomatic dealings, "has stressed the importance of dialogue and mutual respect." 

The Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also spoke in general terms about the Holy See's longstanding defense of religious liberty. But he didn't mention China or any country by name.

After the conference, Pompeo met with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, the first Group of Seven leader to sign onto China's infrastructure-building Belt and Road initiative. Conte said at the time of Italy's 2019 signing, which was done over U.S. objections, that it would not put into question Italy's trans-Atlantic partnerships.

A State Department deputy spokesperson, Cale Brown, said Pompeo raised the issue during his meeting with Conte, and noted the "risks" of doing business with China. 

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

Join America Media as we prepare for the coming of our Lord with special daily Advent reflections on The Word podcast.
America StaffNovember 27, 2020
St. Francis’ poverty was not cold and brutal but actually, in a way, worldly. It was a poverty that anyone today searching for what is real and authentic might relate to.
Jason M. BaxterNovember 27, 2020
The image displays five photos of the five members of the prayer service's organizing committee: Moira Egan, a white woman in her 50s with dark hair (top left); Kathleen Friel, a white woman with short hair wearing glasses (top middle); Ricardo da Silva, S.J., a white man who is bald with a brown beard, wearing glasses (top right); Father John Mulreany, S.J., wearing clerical carb that is black, and glasses (bottom left); Allison Connelly, white woman, light brown hair and glasses (bottom right)
An New York City parish organized a fully accessible prayer service for people with disabilities, who even in the church are often forgotten on the margins.
Erika RasmussenNovember 27, 2020
Roberto S. Goizueta’s 'Caminemos con Jesús' has become incarnate in singer-songwriter-theologian Tony Alonso’s new songbook.
Cecilia González-AndrieuNovember 27, 2020