Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was denied an audience with Pope Francis as Vatican officials accuse him of attempting to use the concept of “religious freedom” for political gain.
Pompeo has made prioritizing religious liberty over human rights a hallmark of his tenure. LGBTQ and women’s rights have been frequent targets of his agenda.
The secretary created the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a group stacked with far-right evangelical Christians and religious extremists, to “examine” existing civil rights laws and prioritize them. Unsurprisingly, the group found that “religious freedom” was more important than women’s reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights.
An anti-LGBTQ activist was the chair of the commission.
The report could be used to undermine LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights internationally. It was presented to the United Nations last month.
But Pompeo took his shtick too far for the Holy See during a trip to Rome. Scheduled to meet with Vatican officials the next day, Pompeo accused the Catholic Church of putting its “moral authority” at risk at an event held at the U.S. embassy.
The Church works with Chinese authorities on the appointment of bishops, so Pompeo accused Vatican officials of being complicit in human rights abuses in China.
After Pompeo’s remarks, Vatican officials confirmed that Pompeo had requested an audience with the Pope and had been rebuffed.
“Yes, he asked. But the Pope had already said clearly that political figures are not received in election periods. That is the reason,” Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told Reuters.
Asked if Pompeo was attempting to use the incident as retaliation for political gain, Parolin, the Vatican’s top diplomat, earned his paycheck.
“Some have interpreted it this way,” he said. “That the comments were above all for domestic political use. I don’t have proof of this but certainly, this is one way of looking at it.”
Asked if he was attempting to pick a fight with the Pope, Pompeo denied the charges in characteristic fashion.
“That’s just crazy,” he said. “Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than in China.”