VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis, esteemed for his embrace of "human fraternity," has reportedly refused to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or dissident Chinese cardinal Joseph Zen a week before publishing his encyclical Fratelli Tutti (All Brothers).
Vatican Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin told U.S. diplomats that the pontiff was canceling his meeting with Pompeo because it might signal support for President Donald Trump's re-election campaign, La Repubblica reported Sunday.
Francis' snub is being seen as a rebuff to Pompeo's recent warning that "the Vatican endangers its moral authority" if it renews its secret deal with China — a concordat which authorizes the atheist communist regime to appoint bishops.
On Monday, the Italian bishops' newspaper Avvenire confirmed the pope's outrage at Pompeo's "interference," quoting Pompeo's words about the "Vatican endangering its moral authority."
Denouncing the Secretary of State as "Donald Trump's close collaborator," Avvenire insisted that despite the Vatican-China deal being secret, leaked information revealed that "the pope is given the final word on the appointment of bishops."
The bishops' media also attacked Pompeo's words as "not very diplomatic" and "in line with the hostility shown by the current American administration with respect to the historic rapprochement between China and the Holy See."
Pompeo "is not Catholic but is affiliated with the Presbyterian community," Avvenire noted, arguing that the Secretary of State's foray would not be able to "shift, even by a single comma, the Vatican's position on dialogue with Beijing."
On Monday, Cdl. Zen also announced that he was visiting Rome to see the Holy Father.
"I asked Francis for an audience, but there was not even a word of greeting from Santa Marta," he told Vatican journalist Aldo Maria Valli.
Zen delivered a letter to one of Francis' private secretaries, in which he deals with the question of the new bishop of Hong Kong, Valli reported.
"For more than a year and a half now we have been without a bishop. It was suggested that auxiliary bishop Joseph Ha be appointed. Now, however, Peter Choy, who is too close to Beijing is being named [bishop of Hong Kong]. In the letter, I warn the pope: Appointing Choy will be a disaster," Zen said.
Meanwhile, in a no-holds-barred interview also published Monday, Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò, former papal nuncio to the United States, confirmed that the Holy See's cold-shouldering of Pompeo was consistent with the "reading that sees in the Vatican open support for Joe Biden's race for the White House."
"Secretary of State Pompeo did well to censure the renewal of the secret agreement signed between Bergoglio and [China's president] Xi Jinping," Viganò remarked.
"Why does the Vatican, which is silent in the face of Democrats' support for abortion and the violation of the most basic rights in China," consider the Trump administration to be interfering in an agreement that has obvious repercussions in the international political balance, the outspoken archbishop asked.
"The Vatican should stand with fellow Catholics and the people of Hong Kong," Pompeo had urged Sept. 19.
In strongly worded column in the journal First Things, Pompeo had argued that "now more than ever, the Chinese people need the Vatican's moral witness and authority in support of China's religious believers."
Pompeo is scheduled to meet Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte and foreign minister Luigi Di Maio when he visits Rome this week.
On Wednesday, the Secretary of State will speak at the U.S. Embassy during the Vatican symposium on Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom Through Diplomacy.
Cardinal Parolin and the Holy See's secretary for relations with states, Abp. Paul Gallagher, will also participate in the symposium, giving Pompeo an opportunity to reiterate to Vatican officials his opposition to the controversial Sino-Vatican concordat.
China researcher at Amnesty International, William Nee, told the South China Morning Post that the Vatican wished to distance itself from 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," Nee said.
Nee also noted that the Vatican could also be trying to avoid influencing Catholic swing voters.
"The Catholic vote is one of the crucial demographics in the U.S. 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 U.S. election," he observed.
The Italian bishops concluded by emphasizing that not only Pompeo's words would not change the Vatican's attitude to China, but "paradoxically would strengthen the Sino-Vatican agreement."
"Today more than ever, Beijing is willing to make greater concessions with interlocutors criticized rather than 'blessed' by Washington," Avvenire stressed.