Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was denied an audience with Pope Francis during his visit to the Vatican this week—but he was welcomed by the pontiff's critics. Vatican officials said it is normal for the pope not to meet political figures during election periods, though they also expressed concern about Pompeo's demand for the church to end its deal with China on the appointment of bishops, Fox reports. In September, Pompeo wrote an op-ed in conservative Christian magazine First Things urging the Vatican not to renew the deal because of Beijing's human rights abuses. "The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal," Pompeo wrote in a tweet sharing the article.
Francis is not popular with conservative American Catholics, and top Vatican diplomats including Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, suggested Pompeo was grandstanding to influence US voters, the BBC reports. "Some have interpreted it this way—that the comments were above all for domestic political use," Parolin said. "I don't have proof of this but certainly this is one way of looking at it." Pompeo, who will meet Parolin Thursday, met church figures opposed to Francis Wednesday and attended an event on religious freedom organized by Calista Gingrich, the American ambassador to the Vatican, the New York Times reports. Attendees included Cardinal Raymond Burke, who said in 2004 that he would deny communion to John Kerry. (Read more Vatican stories.)