ROME (Reuters) - The Vatican’s number two said on Thursday after talks with Mike Pompeo that the two sides’ positions on China remained far apart and firmly asserted the Holy See’s right to pursue an accord with Beijing denounced by the U.S. Secretary of State.
Pompeo met Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher on Thursday on a visit to Rome marked by Vatican irritation over Pompeo’s public criticism of a Holy See accord with Beijing on the appointment of bishops.
Vatican officials have said they were “surprised” by Pompeo’s comments, made last month, and particularly that they were published in a conservative U.S. Catholic publication that has called Pope Francis’ pontificate a failure.
Parolin, second only to the pope in the Vatican hierarchy, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a book launch on Thursday night. He was asked if the positions were still distant.
“Yes, even though the purpose of the meeting was not to bring the positions closer,” he said.
In an article and a series of tweets in September Pompeo accused the Vatican of putting its “moral authority” at risk if it renewed an agreement with China over the appointment of bishops. It sparked a minor diplomatic crisis.
Vatican officials suggested Pompeo was trying to drag the Catholic Church into the U.S. presidential election by denouncing its relations with China. Pompeo has denied this.
“He (Pompeo) explained his reasons for making those statements and we explained our reasons why we intend to move ahead on the path we have already chosen,” Parolin said.
Parolin said the Vatican “asserts (the right to move forward) with a choice that has been thought through, reflected on, prayed over, a choice the pope has made, therefore the freedom to move forward.”
The Vatican’s two-year-old accord with Beijing gives the pope final say over the appointment of Chinese bishops. Parolin said the Vatican would renew it when it expires this month.
Vatican officials say the agreement is not perfect but establishes a dialogue with Beijing after decades during which Chinese Catholics faithful to the pope were driven underground.
Parolin said Pompeo had expressed “understanding for the way the Holy See approaches these issues.”
President Donald Trump has campaigned on his hard line on China ahead of the Nov. 3 election. He is also associated with conservative Protestant and Catholic movements, many of which have been critical of Pope Francis.
In an address to a symposium on Wednesday, Pompeo did not directly address the Vatican agreement with Beijing but described China as the world’s worst abuser of religious rights.
Reporting By Philip Pullella, Editing by William Maclean
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