Secretary Mike Pompeo Speaks About Chinese Religious-Freedom Violations at Vatican

Pompeo was at the Vatican Oct. 2 for a symposium on human dignity. An embassy source said Pompeo will meet Pope Francis on Oct. 3.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (r) and Vatican Secretary Archbishop Paul Gallagher speak at the Vatican symposium Oct. 2.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (r) and Vatican Secretary Archbishop Paul Gallagher speak at the Vatican symposium Oct. 2. (photo: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke out Wednesday about China’s religious-freedom violations during a visit to the Vatican.

“When the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority … human dignity is trampled … moral norms are crushed completely,” Pompeo said Oct. 2 in Vatican City’s Old Synod Hall.

The U.S. secretary of state said this is why “China has put more than a million Uighur Muslims ... in internment camps” and “why it throws Christian pastors in jail.”

Pompeo was at the Vatican Oct. 2 for the symposium “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity: Partnering With Faith-Based Organizations,” co-hosted by the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

An embassy source told CNA that Secretary Pompeo will meet Pope Francis on Oct. 3 in the Vatican library.

Pompeo’s speech at the Vatican began and ended with an example of a Uyghur Muslim who experienced persecution from the Chinese government in Xinjiang.

Last week the Holy See marked the one-year anniversary of a provisional agreement with the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of bishops.

Secretary Pompeo said that countries around the world should “follow the wisdom of Jesus: ‘Be not afraid’” in defending religious freedom where it is under threat.

Sam Brownback, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said that the U.S. is calling on the Chinese government to "move away from this war on faith."

"We are deeply concerned about what China is doing," Brownback told CNA.

Brownback said that the State Department is particularly concerned with the Chinese government's use of advanced technologies, like facial recognition and a social-credit score system, to marginalize people of faith in the society.

"That system is starting to be exported to other places, other authoritarian repressive regimes. ... I think that is why the secretary talks about it, and it is certainly why I talk about it," Brownback said.

Pompeo also singled out the governments of Iran, Myanmar and Syria for their repression of religious freedom and denounced Cuba’s cancellation of National Catholic Youth Day this year.

The symposium was convened at the Vatican to highlight the role of faith-based organizations in advancing religious freedom, combating human trafficking and providing humanitarian aid.

“The stakes today are arguably higher than they were even during the Cold War,” Pompeo said.

“More than 80% of mankind lives in places where religious freedom is threatened or entirely denied. Approximately 71 million people around the world are displaced as refugees, roughly 25 million people are caught in human-trafficking situations, and it is not coincidence that this has happened as unfree societies have proliferated,” he said.

The U.S. Department of State this year launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, a multilateral organization to advance religious-freedom issues worldwide. “We humbly ask the Holy See to join us,” Pompeo said. “What could be more powerful than our voices all together calling for the freedom to worship God?”

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states spoke at the symposium’s opening about the need to “promote peaceful coexistence and peaceful societies.” He highlighted Pope Francis’ joint declaration on human fraternity signed in Abu Dhabi and said that the Holy See seeks to develop an international network of religious leaders to promote “healthy pluralism.”

Pompeo commended Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis for speaking out in defense of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Catholic woman whose life was threatened under a blasphemy law.

As the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See marks its 35th anniversary this year, Pompeo spoke fondly of St. John Paul II and U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s partnership during the Cold War: “Think of the millions of believers who can live with dignity and purpose, who can now worship without fear, thanks to the joint efforts of a pope and a president.”