Pope Francis has reportedly refused to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Rome over a dispute between the Vatican and China.
Mr Pompeo plans to visit the Vatican this week to protest the imminent renewal of a two-year-old deal between the Catholic church and China, which the secretary of state has claimed would endanger the church’s moral authority.
He is slated to meet with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the foreign minister for the Vatican. But Pope Francis, whom Mr Pompeo met with last October, would not be meeting with him.
According to reports, Pope Francis cited the looming United States presidential election as the reason to not meet with Mr Pompeo. But the Trump administration’s criticism over the deal between the Vatican and China could likely be a factor in the decision.
This deal, which the details have not been disclosed to the public, has allowed the Vatican to have a say in the Catholic bishops appointed in China. Since the historic deal was agreed upon two years ago, two new bishops have been appointed in China after consultation with the Vatican.
Mr Pompeo has argued that the Vatican should not renew its deal with China due to Xi Jinping’s administration facing accusations of religious persecution.
“The human rights situation in China has deteriorated severely under the autocratic rule of Xi Jinping, especially for religious believers,” Mr Pompeo wrote for an article in First Things magazine this month.
He added that there have been “credible reports” of “forced sterilizations and abortions of Muslims in Xinjiang” as well as “abuse of Catholic priests and laypeople”.
Pope Francis has been notably silent on China's violations of human rights. These violations include the imprisonment of at least one million Uighurs and other Muslims in prison camps, with reports of them facing starvation, torture, murder, sexual violence and much more while at the camps.
“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,” Mr Pompeo wrote. “In the late 20th 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 added. “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.”
In a tweet, Mr Pompeo added that the Catholic church “endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal”.
The extension of the deal between the Vatican and China is expected to be signed next month.
Mr Pompeo’s trip to the Vatican comes with him also traveling to Greece, Italy, and Croatia to promote diplomatic relations and religious freedoms.