US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revived a spat with the Vatican Wednesday during a visit to Rome, a month ahead of the US elections and hot on the heels of a diplomatic breach that experts see as an effort to win conservative Catholic votes.
Pompeo is not meeting Pope Francis because the pontiff avoids such audiences in campaign periods, a Vatican source said.
Analysts say the pope has been angered by Pompeo’s public calls for a historic Vatican-China accord to be scrapped.
Instead, Pompeo spoke at a symposium organized by the Holy See’s US embassy, where he renewed an appeal for the Vatican to take a stand against China, pushing a religious freedom theme used in Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
“Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than in China,” said Pompeo, an evangelical Christian.
“I call on every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution,” he said, insisting that for the Catholic Church “earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances”.
Pompeo had gone on the offensive earlier this month, calling a Sino-Vatican 2018 agreement on appointing bishops, which is up for renewal, a risk to the church’s “moral authority” given Beijing’s human rights record.
Francis has been working hard to repair ties with China and the Vatican has not appreciated Pompeo’s public interference.