The Vatican on Wednesday denied U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo an opportunity to meet with Pope Francis, amid an ongoing clash between Pompeo and the Holy See over policy regarding China.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, told reporters that Pope Francis “clearly said that he does not receive political figures ahead of the elections.”
“That’s just crazy,” Pompeo said when asked if his visit to the Vatican was intended to motivate U.S. voters. “We’ve been working on human rights in China the entire time I’ve been part of this administration.”
Tension between Pompeo and the Vatican, however, has already been building for some time, the New York Times outlined on Wednesday.
For decades, China has attempted to control the Catholic church hierarchy within its borders, going so far as to appoint bishops who were subsequently excommunicated by the Vatican because they were not chosen by the Pope. The Vatican agreed to a provisional deal in 2018 in which Pope Francis recognized seven bishops appointed by Beijing, in an attempt to increase the church’s presence and legitimacy in China.
That deal was lambasted by critics, including Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former archbishop of Hong Kong, who said at the time that Chinese Catholics would be placed in a Communist-controlled “cage.”
The Vatican is currently attempting to renew the agreement with China’s government. However, the push has caused the Vatican to run afoul of the Trump administration, which is advocating a hard line against China in the wake of a trade war and the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter on September 19. “The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.”
Pompeo linked to an article he penned in the conservative Catholic magazine First Things, in which he urged the church not to engage with China’s government. The magazine has been critical of Pope Francis’s leadership, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in the Vatican.
“We know that the interpretation doesn’t only come from the text, but also from the context,” Cardinal Parolin commented, saying the article caused “surprise” in the Vatican. “The venue…already says something about the intention of those who wrote this article.”
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