Pompeo calls on Vatican to denounce China for human rights abuses
Pompeo said the Catholic Church should be at the helm of basic human rights while attending a conference on religious freedom organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, The Associated Press reported.
His appeal comes as the Vatican enters negotiations with Beijing about extending a controversial agreement over bishop nominations, which expired this year.
Pompeo sharply criticized Beijing, underscoring human rights violations China has infringed upon its residents, as he has in the past over the suppression of democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
He added there was nowhere religious liberty is more under attack than in China.
"To be a church 'permanently in a state of mission' has many meanings," Pompeo said, quoting Pope Francis. "Surely one of them is to be a church permanently in defense of basic human rights."
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister, defended the agreement with China regarding bishop nominations, saying it is not a political or diplomatic accord.
Gallagher said the Vatican in diplomatic dealings "has stressed the importance of dialogue and mutual respect."
Still, Pompeo's visit was met with contention after he wrote earlier this month in the conservative magazine First Things that the Vatican compromised its moral authority by signing a 2018 accord with Beijing.
When asked how the Holy See received Pompeo's essay, Gallagher told reporters, "It was received critically."
Gallagher also said the proximity of Pompeo's visit before Election Day in the United States is "one of the reasons why the Holy Father is not receiving the secretary of state."
Pompeo will instead meet with Gallagher and Cardinal Pietro Parolin Thursday at the Vatican.
Cale Brown, a State Department deputy spokesperson, said Pompeo discussed "risks" of doing business with China to Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte after the conference.