Updated Sep 30, 2020, 01:08pm EDT
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted religious persecution in China during a conference in Rome Wednesday, and panned the Vatican’s efforts to increase cooperation with Beijing, which some experts see as a ploy to win over conservative Catholic votes in November’s election.
In 2018, China and the Vatican inked a deal giving both sides a say in appointing Catholic bishops in the communist country, the first time Chinese leaders have granted some semblance of religious freedom and recognized the Pope as the leader of the Catholic Church, but also granting the Communist government authority reserved for the Vatican.
With the 2018 deal set to be renewed, Pompeo, speaking at a conference on religious freedom organized by the U.S Embassy to the Vatican, slammed Pope Francis’ deal, saying “nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than in China,” and calling on the Vatican to “confront religious persecution,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Some Catholic leaders have said U.S. interference in Vatican policy was “clearly linked” to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and an attempt to sway religious voters towards Trump.
Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga said “they’re looking for Donald Trump to get elected, and everything is based on that logic.”
Earlier this month Pompeo said the deal, though meant to help Chinese Catholics, only threatens the Vatican’s “moral authority.”
Massimo Faggioli, a theologian at Villanova University, a Catholic school in the US, told Agence France Presse there was a strong effort in recent years to “turn a certain anti-Francis and anti-Vatican sentiment…into votes for Trump. Vatican diplomacy is being used for propaganda.”
Pompeo also spoke with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio to discuss the administration’s concern that China may be using 5G technologies currently under development to spy on the U.S. and its allies and to warn Italy that the Communist Party may be “trying to leverage its economic presence in Italy to serve its own strategic purposes.”
According to the Council on Foreign Relations the Chinese Communist Party is officially atheist, but it does recognize a few religions, including Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam and Protestantism. Millions of Muslim minorities are persecuted in China every year, including Uighers, who have been forced into labor camps in Xinjiang, which the CCP calls reeducation camps.
Pompeo Calls On Pope Francis to Defend Religious Freedom in China (Wall Street Journal)
China and Vatican to Sign Landmark Deal Over Bishops (Wall Street Journal)