The Vatican can strike a deal with a Communist-Atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but it won’t endorse the Trump administration. Pope Francis has therefore reportedly cancelled a meeting with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The meeting has been cancelled amidst preparations to renew a 2018 deal between the Vatican and China that literally handed over Chinese bishops to the Communist-Authoritarian Chinese State.
And the Holy See also has an excuse for cancelling the key meeting. Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the Holy See told US diplomats that the Pope’s meeting with Pompeo ahead of the US polls had to be cancelled owing to the upcoming American Presidential Polls. The Vatican says that the meeting might have been seen as a sign of support for the US President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
But is the US Presidential race the only factor behind cancellation of the Pope-Pompeo meeting? José Miguel Encarnação, a Macau-based commentator on religious affairs, feels otherwise.
According to SCMP, Encarnação feels that Pompeo’s criticism of the Vatican’s continued talks with Beijing to reach a deal on the issue of regulation of Chinese bishops might also have been a reason. Encarnação said, “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].”
The Vatican is afraid of Pompeo. It fears that the US Secretary of State will not hold back in criticising the 2018 provisional deal between China and the Vatican that gives the CCP a stake in appointment of Bishops in China. The Vatican wants to renew the deal, even though the CCP has been carrying out an anti-Catholic crusade within China.
In fact, Pompeo even wrote an article in the US religious journal First Things. In his article, Pompeo urged the Vatican to take a tougher line, days before the 2018 deal was due to expire and the renewal process about to start.
Encarnação said, “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.”
There are two main issues for the Vatican here- firstly, if the US Secretary of State starts speaking up against the Vatican-China deal in a meeting with Pope Francis, then it would send strong signals to the Christian world. And secondly, the Holy See will have nothing to argue against Pompeo if he starts persuading it not to renew the 2018 deal with China.
The Christian world is bound to feel somewhat violated. The Holy see is supposed to protect Bishops and Catholics around the world. But Christians across the world might feel that by signing a deal with the CCP, the Vatican is virtually handing the Chinese Bishops to the wolves. This could turn out to be a major embarrassment for the Papacy. Pompeo can easily instigate such sentiments and therefore the Pope has every reason not to meet him at this juncture.
And then for some reason best known to the Vatican itself, it really wants this deal with Beijing. Therefore, the Vatican doesn’t want to be seen as rallying behind Pompeo’s fierce anti-China line. The Vatican knows how the US Secretary of State can easily put the Vatican in a fix by asking tough questions about the Vatican-China deal.
The Vatican may keep arguing that they don’t want to be endorsing Trump for the upcoming Presidential Polls. But the fact remains that Trump won’t need the express backing of the Holy See to garner Catholic votes. If the US President’s top diplomat stands up to the Holy See over the issue of Chinese bishops, then that would be more than enough for Trump to secure Christian votes in the upcoming polls. The question isn’t really of the Vatican endorsing Trump, rather it is all about the Vatican’s deal with China. The Pope has rejected meeting Pompeo, as the Vatican chooses China over the US.