Mike Pompeo Urges Vatican to Call Out China for Religious Freedom Violations

Chinese Catholics attend a mass on Holy Saturday, part of Easter celebrations at Beijing's government sanctioned South Cathedral on March 31, 2018. Chinese Catholics are taking part in Easter celebrations as China and the Vatican continue talks on a historic agreement on the appointment of bishops in China. / AFP …
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ROME — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged the Vatican to bring its considerable moral authority to bear on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which persists in oppressing Christians and people of other faiths.

“The Holy See has a unique capacity and duty to focus the world’s attention on human rights violations, especially those perpetrated by totalitarian regimes like Beijing’s,” Pompeo wrote Friday in an essay for First Things. “In the late twentieth century, the Church’s power of moral witness helped inspire those who liberated central and eastern Europe from communism, and those who challenged autocratic and authoritarian regimes in Latin America and East Asia.”

“That same power of moral witness should be deployed today with respect to the Chinese Communist Party,” the secretary insisted.

“What the Church teaches the world about religious freedom and solidarity should now be forcefully and persistently conveyed by the Vatican in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to bend all religious communities to the will of the Party and its totalitarian program,” he added.

Secretary Pompeo’s public urging comes just as Vatican diplomats are meeting with their CCP counterparts to renegotiate a 2018 secret agreement between the Holy See and China on the naming of Catholic bishops in China.

“Two years on, it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the Party’s depredations, to say nothing of the Party’s horrific treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and other religious believers,” Pompeo noted.

“Communist authorities continue to shutter churches, spy on and harass the faithful, and insist that the Party is the ultimate authority in religious affairs,” he wrote.

This week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) similarly urged the Vatican to highlight religious liberty in its deliberations with China prior to renewing a 2018 deal on the naming of bishops.

“Communist China continues to persecute Chinese Catholics. USCIRF hopes any future deal between the Vatican & China is rooted in the protection of #religiousfreedom,” the Commission wrote on its Twitter page.

Both the Vatican and Beijing have signaled a desire to renew their secret 2018 agreement, which conferred on the Chinese Communist Party an unspecified amount of authority in the selection of Catholic bishops in China.

In January 2020, the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) released its annual report on human rights conditions in China, which revealed an overall deterioration of religious liberty since the signing of the Sino-Vatican accord.

“In September 2018, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Holy See, paving the way for the unification of state-sanctioned and underground Catholic communities,” the report stated. “Subsequently, local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increased persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy.”

“The Party-led Catholic national religious organizations also published a plan to ‘sinicize’ Catholicism in China,” the report continued, referring to the stated aim of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of obliging all religions to bring their teachings and practices into line with the party.

President Xi Jinping has doubled down on the “sinicization” of religion, the report’s executive summary noted. “Scholars and international rights groups have described religious persecution in China over the last year to be of an intensity not seen since the Cultural Revolution,” it added.

China has intensified its persecution of the underground Catholic church ever since the Holy See softened its position on the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, allowing believers to join despite its assertion of total independence from Rome.

In his essay Friday, Mr. Pompeo wrote that history teaches “that totalitarian regimes can only survive in darkness and silence, their crimes and brutality unnoticed and unremarked.”

“If the Chinese Communist Party manages to bring the Catholic Church and other religious communities to heel, regimes that disdain human rights will be emboldened, and the cost of resisting tyranny will rise for all brave religious believers who honor God above the autocrat of the day,” he warned.

“I pray that, in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party, the Holy See and all who believe in the divine spark enlightening every human life will heed Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John, ‘The truth will set you free,’” he concluded.

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