U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Thursday at the Vatican to meet with top Holy See officials, a day after tensions over American opposition to the Vatican’s China policy spilled out in public.
Pompeo was meeting with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. The Vatican declined his request to see Pope Francis, citing Holy See policy to not grant papal audiences during election campaigns, Parolin said.
Pompeo was in Rome to participate in a conference on religious freedom organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, and to meet with Italian and Vatican officials.
During the Wednesday conference, Pompeo urged the Vatican to join the U.S. in denouncing violations of religious freedom in China, part of the U.S. campaign to criticize Beijing’s crackdown on religious and ethnic minorities that has increased amid the coronavirus pandemic and before the Nov. 3 election.
The conference was organized at the same time the Vatican is entering into delicate negotiations with Beijing on extending their controversial 2018 agreement on nominating bishops for China.
The Vatican is seeking to extend the accord, which envisages a process of dialogue in selecting bishops. It signed it in 2018 in hopes it would help unite China’s Catholics, who for seven decades have been split between those belonging to an official, state-sanctioned church and an underground church loyal to Rome.
Pompeo denies election motive
Pompeo has strongly criticized the accord, penning an essay earlier this month suggesting that the Vatican had compromised its moral authority by signing it. His article greatly irritated the Vatican, which saw it as interference in the church’s internal affairs for the sake of scoring domestic political points.
The Vatican secretary of state, Parolin, said the Holy See was “surprised” by Pompeo’s article.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the conference, Parolin said the private meetings Pompeo had scheduled at the Vatican would have been the more appropriate setting to express his concerns, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
U.S. President Donald Trump has campaigned on his hard line toward China ahead of the Nov. 3 election. He is also strongly associated with conservative Protestant and Catholic movements, many of which have been critical of Pope Francis.
On Wednesday, when asked at a briefing if he was “picking a fight” with the Vatican over China and what impact that could have on Catholic and other Christian voters, Pompeo replied: “That’s just crazy.”
Trump’s recent Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, graduated from law school at the catholic bastion Notre Dame University.
Barrett has had a decades-long affiliation with the People of Praise, founded in 1971 and rooted in charismatic Catholicism, a movement that grew out of the influence of Pentecostalism, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and can include baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.
The group’s 22 branches organize and meet outside the purview of the Roman Catholic Church and include people from several Christian denominations, although the majority of its roughly 1,800 adult members remain Catholic.
For his part, Pompeo is a deacon at an evangelical Presbyterian church in Kansas.
Pompeo started his day Thursday visiting the Rome-based Sant’Egidio Community, a Catholic charity active in caring for refugees in Italy and providing HIV-AIDS care in Africa.
Arriving at Sant’Egidio’s headquarters, Pompeo praised the group’s efforts as “the Lord’s work.”