U.S. Senators Urge Pope Francis to Press China on Religious Liberty

Pope Francis ponders during the Conference of the Diocese of Rome at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano) on May 9, 2019 in Rome. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) sent a letter to Pope Francis Monday asking the pontiff to use his moral authority to pressure Beijing to halt abuses of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.

“We ask that Your Holiness challenge the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, as you have challenged leaders around the globe,” Young and Kaine wrote. “We encourage you to use your loud and formidable voice as a voice for love that encourages all the nations of the world to pursue peace and justice.”

“The CCP has much to gain from a continued agreement with Your Holiness, and as such we believe you possess a unique opportunity to make a positive difference in how all religions and practitioners are treated by the Chinese authorities—especially in Xinjiang,” they declared.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has persecuted the Uyghur Muslim population of Xinjiang for years and this persecution has escalated in recent months. Meanwhile, the Vatican is renegotiating a 2018 agreement with the CCP concerning the appointment of Chinese Bishops.

“We had the great privilege to hear your encouraging words to a Joint Session of Congress just over five years ago,” the senators wrote. “In September 2015 you encouraged Senators and Representatives to use the ‘voice of love’ as a ‘resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery.’”

“Today, we are still encountering slavery and oppression, and it is perhaps no place more extreme than what we are witnessing in Xinjiang and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) indefensible treatment of Uyghur Muslims,” the senators insisted.

The two senators appealed to the pope to heed his own message and use his moral authority in defense of religious minorities in China.

“As the leader of the world’s largest institution of faith, we respectfully request that Your Holiness do all that you can to protect the most basic human rights for all people, including Uyghurs in Xinjiang,” Young and Kaine wrote.

“The CCP’s actions should not only shock or outrage us but also lead us to act,” they said. “Every individual has a choice: to continue to turn a blind eye towards the ongoing abuses occurring in Xinjiang or to use whatever power we have to affect change.”

This year, President Donald Trump signed into law legislation that requires him to sanction officials found responsible for the oppression of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo traveled to Italy last month and urged the Vatican to live up to its vocation as a voice for the oppressed by pressuring China on behalf of persecuted minorities.

Pompeo also published a critique of the Sino-Vatican agreement in the highly respected academic journal First Things, in which he appealed to the Vatican’s historic witness on behalf of the persecuted.

“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,” the secretary of state wrote.

“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 said.

“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.

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