Pope cancels Pompeo meeting as China bishops deal up for renewal
Pope Francis has cancelled a meeting with the US’ top diplomat as it prepares to renew a deal on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China.
The Holy See told US diplomats that the Pope’s planned meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had to be cancelled because it might be seen as a sign of support for US President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported on Sunday.
But Pompeo’s criticism of the Vatican’s continued talks with Beijing might have also been a factor, according to José Miguel Encarnação, a Macau-based commentator on religious affairs.
“This is not the best time for the Pope to receive someone from the Trump administration. If there wasn’t an election, he would find another reason [to not meet Pompeo],” Encarnação said.
In an article in the US religious journal First Things on September 18, Pompeo urged the Vatican to take a tougher line on the two-year provisional agreement it signed with Beijing in 2018 to allow each side to recognise the other’s appointment of bishops.
The comments were published just days before the deal was due to expire.
“At this moment, for the Holy See to receive the US secretary of state when this very person only days earlier called for the Holy See not to renew the agreement with China, this could be badly interpreted by China,” Encarnação said.
William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, said the Vatican was likely wary of being associated with Pompeo’s hard line on China.
“I think this [decision] comes in the context of Mike Pompeo being really the fiercest critic of China and the Communist Party that there is in the world and he is trying to lead a global coalition against Chinese influence,” he said.
But Nee said the Vatican could also be trying to avoid influencing the presidential election.
He said that over the last few election cycles, many Catholics had been swing voters and, with both political parties focused on winning them over this time, the Pope might be even more determined not to appear partisan.
“The Catholic vote is one of the crucial demographics in the US election. You have Catholics who are disproportionately living in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania. These are some of the most important swing states that could very well decide the US election,” he said.
Although Pompeo will not meet the Pope, he will still have the chance to bring up China in meetings with Vatican officials. He is expected to speak at the Holy See Symposium on Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy on Wednesday and meet Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher, according to the US Department of State.