Pope Francis refused to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo because he doesn’t want to meet with “political figures” during elections, and after the nation’s top diplomat criticized a deal the Vatican is negotiating with China, according to a report.
The Vatican on Wednesday turned down Pompeo’s request for an audience with the pope after the secretary of state earlier this month accused the Holy See of jeopardizing its “moral authority” if it extends an agreement with China over the nominations of bishops, Politico reported.
“Two years ago, the Holy See reached an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party, hoping to help China’s Catholics. Yet the CCP’s abuse of the faithful has only gotten worse. The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter Sept. 19.
Pompeo also blasted Catholic Church leadership during a religious freedom conference organized by the US Embassy to the Holy See in Rome this week, saying it should be at the forefront of human rights.
The Vatican’s top diplomats – Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher – confirmed the pope turned down Pompeo’s request for an audience on Thursday, saying he didn’t want the Catholic Church to be pulled into the US election, Reuters reported.
“Yes, he asked. But the pope had already said clearly that political figures are not received in election periods. That is the reason,” Parolin said.
The China deal “is a matter that has nothing to do with American politics. This is a matter between Churches and should not be used for this type of ends,” Parolin said.
The two-year-old deal between the Vatican and Beijing is expected to be renewed this month.
Parolin defended the agreement and said the Vatican hopes it would advance religious freedom and allow for “normalization” of the Catholic Church community in China that has seen its members driven underground if they recognize the pope.
Parolin and Gallagher said the Vatican was taken by “surprise” over Pompeo’s public criticism of the church.
“Normally when you’re preparing these visits between high-level officials, you negotiate the agenda for what you are going to talk about privately, confidentially. It’s one of the rules of diplomacy,” Gallagher said.
Pompeo, asked if he was “picking a fight” with the Vatican, said, “That’s just crazy.”