A Vatican critique of U.S, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is the latest international flare up involving the administration of President Donald Trump which has in recent years lashed out at insitution and allies in the world of security, health, trade, and now religion.
The Holy See said on Sept. 30 it had denied a request from Pompeo for an audience with Pope Francis.
It accused the Secretary of State of trying to drag the Catholic Church into the U.S. presidential election by denouncing its relations with China, Reuters news agency reported.
Remarks came from the two top diplomatic officials at the Vatican after Pompeo made an accusation against the Catholic Church.
These were made in an article and in a series of tweets this month of the church putting its "moral authority" at risk by renewing an agreement with China over the appointment of bishops.
The Vatican's two top diplomats, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said Francis had declined a request from Pompeo for an audience, as the Pope avoids meeting politicians ahead of elections.
"Yes, he asked. But the Pope had already said clearly that political figures are not received in election periods. That is the reason," Parolin said.
The Vatican's two-year-old agreement with Beijing gives the Pope some say over the appointment of Chinese bishops and it was due to expire next month, but is expected to be renewed, Reuters said.
Pompeo was in Rome on Sept. 30 and due to meet Vatican officials the following day and had repeated denunciations of China's record on religious freedom at an event hosted by the U.S. embassy to the Holy See.
The Guardian newspaper reported on the incident that the Italian news agency Ansa asked Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican's secretary for relations with states, if the U.S/ unilaterally organizing an event of religious freedom amounted to exploitation of the Pope in the run-up to the U.S. elections.
He replied: "Yes, that is precisely why the Pope will not meet American secretary of state Mike Pompeo.".
The Reuters report said that Parolin and Gallagher both described Pompeo's public criticism as a "surprise", coming just before his planned visit.
"Normally when you're preparing these visits between high-level officials, you negotiate the agenda for what you are going to talk about privately, confidentially. It's one of the rules of diplomacy," Gallagher said.
Pompeo launched a strong attack on religious persecution in China and called on the Vatican to stand up for religious freedom there, in an implicit criticism of Pope Francis's rapprochement with Beijing, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than in China," Pompeo said in his speech in Rome.
He cited China's treatment of Uighur Muslims and other religious minorities, including Catholics, as well as the crackdown on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.
"We must support those demanding freedom in our time."
Pompeo addressed was at a conference on religious freedom organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, and invoked the courage of Pope John Paul II in opposing Soviet Communism.
"May the church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time," said Pompeo.
The Journal reported a "senior Vatican official" expressed irritation with Pompeo's suggestion that the Holy See hadn't been standing up for religious freedom in China.
"We speak about religious freedom to China all the time, but we do so in our own way," the official said. He suggested that Pompeo's speech was motivated by U.S. domestic politics: "He is clearly exploiting the issue of religious freedom in view of the election in November."