ROME — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took his message of religious freedom to the Vatican Wednesday, urging the Holy See to use its moral voice to call out China’s many atrocities.
For all that nation-states can do, “ultimately, our efforts are constrained by the realities of world politics,” Secretary Pompeo told a Rome symposium on religious freedom in the presence of the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. “Countries must sometimes make compromises to advance good ends, leaders come and go, and indeed priorities change.”
“The Church is in a different position,” Mr. Pompeo continued. “Earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances based on eternal truths. And as history shows, Catholics have often deployed their principles in glorious, glorious service of human dignity.”
The Secretary’s challenge to the Vatican followed on his narration of the ongoing abuses perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on people of faith.
Nowhere is religious freedom “under assault more than it is inside of China today,” he declared. “That’s because, as with all communist regimes, the Chinese Communist Party deems itself the ultimate moral authority.”
“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,” Mr. Pompeo said, underscoring the horrifying case of the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang, but adding that “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,” he said.
“Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression,” he continued. “Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests and laity. And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested.”
“Authorities order residents to replace pictures of Jesus with those of Chairman Mao and those of General Secretary Xi Jinping,” he said.
“We must support those demanding freedoms in our time,” Mr. Pompeo said, before chronicling a number of historic cases where the Church played a pivotal role in defending human rights and particularly religious freedom, noting that Pope John Paul II was “unafraid” and “challenged Latin America authoritarianism and helped inspire democratic transition.”
Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to be “permanently in a state of mission,” Mr. Pompeo said, adding that this expression “has many meanings.”
“Surely, one of them is to be a Church permanently in defense of basic human rights,” he said. “A Church permanently in opposition to tyrannical regimes.”
“Religious leaders should understand that being salt and light must often mean exercising a bold moral witness,” he said.
The Secretary’s address follows on a series of similar messages by religious and secular leaders urging the Catholic Church, and the Holy See in particular, to employ its unique position as a recognized moral authority to bring pressure to bear on the CCP.
Many have expressed their consternation at the Vatican’s silence in the face of the CCP’s egregious human rights violations, presumably motivated by fear of upsetting China’s Communist leadership and compromising the Vatican’s chances of securing full diplomatic relations with Beijing.
It also follows on a written essay by Mr. Pompeo along the same vein in the American journal First Things.
“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 earlier this month.
“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,” he wrote. “That same power of moral witness should be deployed today with respect to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Wednesday’s Rome symposium on religious freedom was organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and also included an address by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, with whom Secretary Pompeo also met in private.