Mike Pompeo visits Vatican despite Pope REFUSING to meet amid China row

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The outspoken US diplomat met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State for the Holy See Catholic government, as well as British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Hole See’s Secretary for Relations with States. Only a day prior, Mr Pompeo had addressed the two officials while giving a speech on ‘defending international religious freedom’.

The visit comes after Pope Francis – with whom Mr Pompeo had hoped to meet – refused to participate in the meetings.

Last month, the Secretary of State hit out at the Vatican’s relationship with China after it emerged the two were discussing the extension of an agreement which sets out a process by which China can choose bishops.

According to Canada’s CBC news, the Vatican hopes the agreement will unite Catholics in China. Mr Pompeo has criticised the agreement, alleging various instances of religious persecutions in China.

On Wednesday this week, Mr Pompeo also spoke at a symposium on ‘Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom’, in which he blasted China in particular for religious intolerance.

At the symposium in Rome, the Secretary said: “Vast swathes of humanity live in countries where religious freedom is restricted, from places like Iran, to Nigeria, and to Cuba, and beyond.

“Nowhere, however – nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today.

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“I spoke on this topic last year for a bit, and I paid special attention last year to the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang.

“But they’re not the only victims. The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more.

“Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression. Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests in Italy.”

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However, the Vatican is reportedly going ahead with talks to renew the China-Vatican agreement.

The state has insisted the Pope’s refusal to meet with Mr Pompeo is due to official policy which bans negotiations during election campaigns.

The US is due to elect its next president on November 3, when Donald Trump goes head to head with main Democrat opponent Joe Biden.

Cale Brown, Principle Deputy Spokesperson for the US Department of State, said: “Secretary Pompeo, Cardinal Parolin, and Archbishop Gallagher discussed the importance of defending religious freedom and other human rights issues and expressed particular concern about the situation in China.

“The Secretary thanked the Cardinal and Archbishop for the Holy See’s calls for an end to the suffering in Venezuela.

“On the Middle East, they underscored the need for urgent reform in Lebanon, welcomed international humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, and discussed the recent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain – historic breakthroughs for peace in the Middle East, as well as the situation in Belarus.”

Today, Mr Pompeo will travel to Croatia to meet the country’s Prime Minister and discuss closer ties with the US.

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