In practice, human rights observers say, that project has led to arrests of religious leaders, including Catholics, prohibitions on children attending Mass, and security cameras in churches, at the same time that the Uyghur Muslim people in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region have faced mass detention, forced labor, sterilization, and abortion in a campaign increasingly described as a genocide. Other religious and ethnic groups face similar conditions.
Pompeo told CNA that “we see enormous deterioration in the ability to attend Church...the things they’re doing to facilities for Christian believers, what’s happening in the west to the Muslim population in Xinjiang, we watch all this deteriorate and we urge the Vatican to exercise its capacity for moral witness and authority to support those believers.”
“That’s the conversation that I expect that I’ll have every time I encounter religious leaders around the world,” Pompeo said.
Critics of the Vatican-China deal say that it has caused Pope Francis to remain silent on human rights in China. That silence seems to have garnered little goodwill for Catholics living in China, some critics say, but it will compromise the Church’s ability to evangelize the country by making it appear complicit in the regime’s abuses.
Critics also note that while an agreement was apparently struck on the appointment of bishops in China, few bishops have actually been appointed to fill the numerous vacant dioceses in China, because Beijing has ground the appointment process to a halt by stalling.
Defenders of the deal, however, say that conditions for Catholics might be far worse in the country were it not for the Holy See’s willingness to engage with Beijing, and that even if few bishops are being appointed, putting a stop to the appointment of schismatic bishops is the beginning of reform.
Cardinal Parolin declined to respond to questions from CNA regarding Pompeo’s visit. An aide to the cardinal told CNA that Parolin expects to discuss issues related to the China deal with Pompeo.
Earlier this month, Parolin told journalists that the Holy See’s “current interest is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible, to ensure that the Church can live a normal life, which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the pope.”
Pompeo told CNA he understood the Church faces risks in China no matter how it engages with Beijing.
“The Holy See will have to balance those risks and I appreciate that, and I don’t know precisely what the arrangements are that have been agreed to.”
“But I can tell you that as you stare at the facts on the ground, conditions have worsened. The capacity for believers to exercise their faith has decreased. It has gone backwards,” he said.
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“And so while it is the case that dialogue matters an awful lot, that these conversations are incredibly important and complex, the agreements that are entered into have to actually deliver outcomes that reflect a better situation. This is the kind of thing that we deal with all the time, where we certainly have imperfect solutions, but we never cease our call for what it is that we ultimately know is the right thing to do.”
“The United States is urging countries all across the world to have their eyes wide open with respect to what’s taking place [in China], whether that’s in the freedom that’s being denied in Hong Kong, or what’s taking place now against those who want to practice their faith in Tibet, in Inner Mongolia...We’re watching the deterioration of religious freedom, and each of us has a special responsibility [to address it],” he said.
“I am confident that the Holy See has a truly special and unique capacity to make life better for each of these people who simply want to exercise their most basic human right of exercising their ability to practice their faith,” the secretary said.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, has been an outspoken critic of the China deal. Zen told CNA this month that “resounding silence will damage the work of evangelization.”
“Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.”
Along with Zen, Cardinals Charles Muang Bo of Burma and Ignatius Suharyo of Indonesia have repeatedly denounced China’s human rights violations.