U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo resurrected a spit with the Vatican during a visit to Rome a month before the U.S. elections on Wednesday, shortly after a diplomatic violation that experts see as an attempt to win conservative Catholic votes.
Pompeo does not meet Pope Francis because the Pope eschews such audiences during campaign periods, a Vatican source said.
Analysts say the Pope is angry with Pompeo’s public calls for the abolition of a historic Vatican-China deal.
Instead, Pompeo spoke at a symposium organized by the U.S. Embassy of the Holy See, where he again called on the Vatican to stand against China and advance an issue of religious freedom used in Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
“Nowhere is religious freedom more attacked than in China,” said Pompeo, an evangelical Christian.
“I urge every religious leader to find the courage to face religious persecution,” he said, insisting that for the Catholic Church “earthly considerations should not discourage principled positions.”
Pompeo went on the offensive earlier this month, calling for a 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement on the appointment of bishops that needs to be renewed. This is a risk to the Church’s “moral authority” in view of the human rights situation in Beijing.
Francis worked hard to mend relations with China, and the Vatican did not recognize Pompeo’s public interference.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s secretary for relations with states, told journalists at the symposium that Pompeo’s statement was “critically received” earlier this month.
“Usually in preparing for these visits you negotiate among high-level officials the agenda of what you will talk about privately and confidentially. This is one of the rules of diplomacy,” he said.
Pompeo will meet with the Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Thursday.
The powerful Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga said the US intervention was undesirable and clearly linked to the campaign.
“They are looking for Donald Trump to be elected, and everything is based on this logic. In that sense, I do not believe that they are acting in the interests of the Americans,” he said in an interview with the Repubblica daily on the eve of Pompeo’s visit.
Francis’ openness to China particularly angered the “anti-Francis” network near the US president, he said, led by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Vatican envoy to the US, and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former advisor .
Massimo Faggioli, a theologian at Villanova Catholic University in the US, said a concerted effort was under way to “convert a certain sentiment against Francis and the Vatican that has become more visible in recent years into votes for Trump”. .
“The Vatican diplomacy is used for propaganda,” he said.
According to the Pew Research Center, about half of Catholic registered voters identify themselves as Republicans or lean towards the Republican Party, while roughly identifying with or leaning towards the Democratic Party.
A “remarkable majority of white Catholics” voted for Trump last time, Faggioli said, and “the plan is to keep this bloc of white Catholic voters in some states where it is particularly needed”.
Pompeo will also meet with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Wednesday to discuss US efforts to discourage European allies from using devices made by Chinese manufacturer Huawei to develop their 5G networks.
The US accuses Huawei of being a tool for Chinese espionage.
Italy insists that its Golden Power Act, which allows the government to impose conditions, restrictions, or a ban on foreign investment in strategic industries, protects it from risk.
Even so, Conte promised last week to take stricter measures to ensure national security on the country’s 5G networks.
Talks are also likely to touch on Italy’s participation in China’s ambitious “Belt and Road” trade and infrastructure investment plan.
Rome was the first G7 country to join the plan last year. This move, which has been harshly criticized by those who fear the investment program will leak important trade secrets and technology into Beijing’s hands.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)