Vatican Strikes Back at Mike Pompeo over China

Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher (L) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shale hands during the launch of a Vatican - US Symposium on Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs), on October 2, 2019 at the Old Synod Hall in the Vatican, as part of Pompeo's four-nation …
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

The Vatican has manifested its displeasure over a recent essay by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on the Holy See to denounce China’s ongoing violations of religious liberty, labeling the secretary’s words harsh, undiplomatic, and counterproductive.

An article Tuesday in the newspaper of the Italian Bishop’s Conference, Avvenire, rails against Mr. Pompeo’s “harsh words” against the Vatican’s diplomatic position regarding China, while declaring that the Holy See considers the secretary’s message an “interference.”

Last Friday, Mr. Pompeo published an essay in First Things urging the Vatican to use its considerable moral authority to pressure the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which persists in oppressing Christians and people of other faiths, notably over a million Uyghur Muslims held in Chinese detention camps. He wrote:

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. 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 added.

“Two years on, it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the Party’s depredations,” Pompeo insisted, in reference to a 2018 secret accord between China and the Vatican on the naming of bishops, “to say nothing of the Party’s horrific treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and other religious believers.”

According to Tuesday’s article, Pompeo’s “undiplomatic” intervention is a further expression of ongoing U.S. hostility to the “historic rapprochement between China and the Holy See.”

Mr. Pompeo is due to travel to Rome and the Vatican next week, where he will meet with members of the Italian government and participate in a conference on religious freedom organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

“It is difficult to think that Pompeo’s overture could shift the Vatican position one iota regarding dialogue with Beijing,” the article states, before launching its own warning shot across the bow.

“If Pompeo’s words do not change the Vatican approach, it may happen instead that, paradoxically, they end up strengthening the Sino-Vatican agreement,” the text declares.

“Today more than ever, Beijing is willing to make greater concessions with interlocutors criticized rather than ‘blessed’ by Washington,” it concludes.

The article carefully sidesteps the central question of China’s egregious human rights abuses and trampling of religious liberty and the Vatican’s role in denouncing the abuses.

To some observers, the essay’s reticence in addressing the crimes of the Chinese Communist Party could seem to confirm rather than refute the concerns expressed by Mr. Pompeo.

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