Tensions between Usa and Vatican over China dominate Pompeo’s visit to Rome

“Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than in China,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech in Rome quoted by the Wsj. He cited China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims and other religious minorities, including Catholics, as well as the crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. “We must support those demanding freedom in our time,” he said at a conference on religious freedom organised by the US embassy to the Holy See during his visit to Italy.

“An increasingly repressive CCP, frightened by its own lack of democratic legitimacy, works day and night to snuff out the lamp of freedom, especially religious freedom, on a horrifying scale. I spoke on this topic last year for a bit, and I paid special attention last year to the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang. But they’re not the only victims.  The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more. Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression: Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed,” he added.

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also 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.

Pope Francis reportedly declined to meet Pompeo during his visit this week, citing the closeness of the US election. But when on Wednesday the Italian news agency Ansa asked Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, if the US unilaterally organising the event amounted to exploitation of the pope in the run-up to the elections, he replied: “Yes, that is precisely why the pope will not meet American secretary of state Mike Pompeo.”

But the Vatican decision is also linked to the fact that earlier this month Pompeo wrote a column calling Pope Francis not to sign the Vatican-China agreement. Asked Wednesday how the Holy See received Pompeo’s essay, Gallagher also told reporters: “It was received critically.”

Vatican is about to renew its agreement with China over the appointments the church’s bishops in China. Hong Kong-based Cardinal Joseph Zen (pic on the left) flew to Rome to deliver a letter to Pope Francis begging for “a good bishop” to be chosen to lead Hong Kong Diocese. Despite staying in the Italian capital for four days last week, Cardinal Zen was not granted an audience with the pontiff, leaving him to hand his letter to the pope’s private secretary.