Pope Francis refused to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week because the Catholic leader doesn’t want to be used for political purposes amid the U.S. election campaign, a senior Vatican official said Wednesday.
Pompeo, in the run-up to meetings in Rome this week with Italian ministers, has been highly critical of the Vatican’s plan to renew a two-year bilateral pact with China.
Washington has joined a chorus of critics against the deal with China amid growing mistrust of Beijing and condemnation of its maltreatment of minorities, and efforts to prevent China from acquiring moral legitimacy from its relationship with the Vatican. But the heightened scrutiny also comes amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s bid for reelection in November.
“The Vatican endangers its moral authority should it renew the deal,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter, citing human rights abuses and lack of religious freedom in China.
He was scheduled to meet his Vatican counterpart and other officials on Thursday to make his case.
But at a U.S. embassy-organized event on religious freedom on Wednesday evening, one of those officials made it clear Pompeo had been officially snubbed by Pope Francis.
Asked by Italian news agency ANSA if the organization of the event amounted to an exploitation of the pope in the run-up to the election, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, said: “Yes, that is precisely why the pope will not meet American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”
The deal between the Vatican and China was agreed two years ago, giving the Vatican a say in the appointment of Chinese Catholic bishops, and is likely to be renewed in October.
China’s record of religious freedom has only worsened in the meantime, contributing to growing distrust and suspicion of the Beijing government in Europe and the U.S.
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But the Vatican hopes that by getting recognition for the pope, it will help normalize the church and improve conditions for Catholics long term.
Pompeo had previously warned Italian ministers that China is attempting to increase its influence in Italy through economic investment.