Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently touring Europe. Not surprisingly, the trip has turned into a crusade against Beijing, and some foreign officials are not happy with Pompeo’s attempts at diplomacy.
On Wednesday, the Vatican announced it had denied a request from Pompeo to meet with Pope Francis. The official reason was that the pope does not meet with political figures during election seasons, but the Vatican’s diplomats also criticized Pompeo for remarks he made about the Catholic Church’s relationship with China.
Pompeo’s issue with the Vatican is with a deal the Church made in 2018 with China over the appointment of bishops. Before the agreement was reached, the Chinese government appointed bishops inside China sometimes without the pope’s approval. This caused a split between Chinese Catholics who were more loyal to the Vatican and those more faithful to the state-appointed Catholic leaders.
The agreement’s details are not public, but the pope says it gives the Vatican a say in the appointment of bishops in China. The deal is set to expire in October, and the Vatican is engaging with China in negotiations to extend it. The Catholic Church’s dealings with Beijing has drawn the ire of Pompeo.
Writing in the conservative journal First Things, in an article published on September 18th, Pompeo slammed the Vatican’s negotiations with China. Pompeo reiterated his point of view in a tweet on September 19th.
“Two years ago, the Holy See reached an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party, hoping to help China’s Catholics. Yet the CCP’s abuse of the faithful has only gotten worse. The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal,” Pompeo said.
The Vatican’s Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher expressed his views on Pompeo’s criticisms of the Church in comments to reporters. “Normally when you’re preparing these visits between high-level officials, you negotiate the agenda for what you are going to talk about privately, confidentially. It’s one of the rules of diplomacy,” Gallagher said.
With the upcoming US presidential election, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin was asked if he believes Pompeo’s criticism of the Vatican’s deal with China was intended for domestic political use. “Some have interpreted it this way … that the comments were above all for domestic political use. I don’t have proof of this but certainly, this is one way of looking at it,” he said.
The Vatican-China deal “is a matter that has nothing to do with American politics,” Parolin said. “This is a matter between Churches and should not be used for this type of ends.”
As far as Pompeo’s request to meet with Pope Francis, Parolin said, “Yes, he asked. But the pope had already said clearly that political figures are not received in election periods. That is the reason.”
Pompeo was in Rome on Wednesday and delivered a speech criticizing China’s oppression of religious groups. The Vatican deal was not mentioned in his speech, but it was a clear swipe at the Catholic Church. Pompeo is due to meet with Vatican officials on Thursday.
Pompeo met with Italian officials on Wednesday and warned against doing business with China. The US constantly pressures European countries to limit its dealings with Beijing, and Chinese companies like the tech firm Huawei that specializes in 5G.