ROME – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo does not have a very good Roman holiday. His motorcade of more than 30 cars slid through the cobbled streets of the unusually gloomy, cloudy Italian capital on Wednesday morning for its second visit this year. But instead of receiving the hero’s greeting, as he did last time, along with a private audience with Pope Francis and a visit to his birthplace outside Rome, he was accused of trying to exploit the pope on behalf of President Trump.
The tripartite between the United States, Italy and the Holy See was to be a pre-election opportunity to show that US relations with Rome are stronger than ever. Instead, he was overshadowed by Italian headlines mocking Trump̵
Instead, Pompeo spearheaded an event called “Promoting and Protecting International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy,” hosted by US Ambassador to the Holy See Calista Gingrich in a socially remote conference room at the chic Excelsior Hotel on Via Veneto near the US Embassy. Bishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s secretary of state for relations, made an address after Pompeo, but the most he could give as a papal blessing was to say, “His Holiness is aware of this meeting.”
When they were pressured earlier in the week why the pontiff seemed to catch Pompeo after welcoming him just a year ago, the Vatican’s press office said the pope did not like holding audiences with high-ranking government officials so close to important elections. Immediately after the speech, ANSA asked Gallagher to confirm whether the reason was “the exploitation of the Pope in the last stages of the US presidential campaign.” Gallagher said in the affirmative: “Yes, that’s why the pope will not meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”
The pope was also upset by Pompeo’s comments about the Holy See’s growing warmth with China and the renewal of the 2018 agreement, which aims to bring Chinese Catholics to the fold by legitimizing the Chinese Catholic Church, authorized by Beijing.
Pompeo wasted no time on the Gingrich stage to call for such a move. “Nowhere is religious freedom under attack more than in China today,” Pompeo said. “As with all communist regimes, the Chinese Communist Party is considered the supreme moral authority.”
Pompeo reportedly angered the pontiff earlier this month by pressuring the Vatican to withdraw from the agreement in the conservative Catholic magazine First things. “The Holy See has a unique capacity and duty to focus the world’s attention on human rights abuses, especially those committed by totalitarian regimes such as Beijing,” he wrote. “What the church teaches the world about religious freedom and solidarity must now be conveyed insistently and persistently by the Vatican in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to bring all religious communities to the will of the party and its totalitarian agenda.”
The Chinese Catholic Church has been a priority for Francis since his election in 2013, and it appears that no pressure from abroad will have any effect on the pope’s desire to allow Chinese Catholics to be blessed by the Vatican.
Pompeo’s Rome route also includes meetings with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Mayo, a member of the Five Star Movement, which has just called on many of their parliamentarians to isolate themselves after a small COVID cluster appears to be spreading. among party members. He will also take a private tour of the Borghese Gallery before hosting the ambassador’s residence for a small but brilliant dinner on Wednesday night. On Thursday, Pompeo will visit a Catholic charity dealing with Syrian refugees and meet in private with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, where relations with China will be high on the agenda.