Traditionally, the oppressive Roman weeks of August are a time of diminished activity for the Curia as well. But there are signs that the Holy See’s diplomatic apparatus continues in the background and is gaining speed toward the fall.
This is how Pope Francis received UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet last week. As usual, when not dealing with heads of state, the Vatican did not publish a communique.
According to Latin American media, in addition to the general situation in Latin America and the pandemic, the half-hour exchange focused on the political and social crisis in Venezuela – a country where the Catholic Church has repeatedly offered to mediate and urged reforms.
Bachelet and Francis are no strangers to each other. As president of Chile, Bachelet traveled to the Vatican in June 2015; in the same role, she received the Argentine-born pope in Santiago in January 2018. In terms of content, the two partly pull together, for example with their criticism of overcrowded detention centers that do not offer prisoners adequate protection from the coronavirus.
Silence on the subject of Hong Kong
In other cases, Bachelet expresses himself more impartially, for example, on the protection of civil rights in Hong Kong. Francis and the Holy See have so far been silent on this ie.
The obvious reason for this is that the Vatican has a radio station that is open to the public on 22. He does not want to jeopardize the renewal of the "provisional agreement" with Beijing, which is due in September. Although negotiations have reportedly been dogged by Chinese hacking attacks on Vatican computers since May, there are said to be "a number of positive signals" for a continuation of the treaty, the National Catholic Reporter reported (Monday), citing Italian China expert Francesco Sisci.
Both sides have an interest in overcoming the division of Chinese Catholics into a pro-government "Patriotic Association" and an underground church loyal to Rome – the question is, by what means and with what influence?. According to information from "National Catholic Reporter," the status of the Catholic community in Hong Kong and the Holy See’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan are also likely to play a role in the negotiations.
Criticism of election in Belarus
The Vatican has been less timid in the face of protests following the Belarusian presidential election, which has been overshadowed by allegations of falsification. Pope Francis demanded "respect for justice and the law" in Belarus at noon prayer Sunday.
Even though he called for dialogue and renunciation of violence, this did not sound like an invitation to the demonstrators in Minsk to go home. The Vatican television service showed visitors in St. Peter’s Square with white-red-white flags of the Belarusian opposition movement; they greeted the pope’s appeal with cheers.
The Greek Catholic Grand Archbishop in Ukraine was even more outspoken in his support for the resistance against President Alexander Lukashenko. The protesters in the neighboring country are fighting for their rights and freedom, wrote Svyatoslav Shevchuk to the Archbishop of Minsk, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. He further urged an "end to violence against innocent people" and warned against external interference.
The fact that the portal "Vatican News" published Shevchuk’s letter in quotations can be considered as approval by the Secretariat of State.
And then there are also US elections
Sometimes it is such Vatican media reports that indicate what diplomatic soup is simmering and how it is seasoned. In recent weeks, the "Osservatore Romano" soberly recorded contradictions between statements by U.S. President Donald Trump on the Corona pandemic on the one hand and statements by experts on the other; it ran Covid 19 case numbers as headlines, reported on Joe Biden’s nomination of Kamala Harris as running mate and her attack on Trump. Of course, the newspaper abstains from any election recommendation; but a Vatican view is hinted at.
Diplomatic reinforcement receives the nunciature in Lisbon. Mauricio Rueda Beltz, previously the pope’s travel marshal, vacated his Vatican office and moved to Portugal. The post of chief organizer of apostolic travel will not be filled until further notice – under current conditions, no foreign visits by Francis are foreseeable for months to come. Even Rueda Beltz’s move reportedly happened earlier than planned – out of concern that travel in Europe would become more difficult again. This is another aspect of diplomacy in Corona times.