US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has penned a new article for the religious journal First Things, arguing that the Vatican’s agreement with China on the appointment of bishops has confused Catholics on the ground and urging the Holy See to be more vocal on China’s violations of human rights.

“The Holy See has a unique capacity and duty to focus the world’s attention on human rights violations, especially those perpetrated by totalitarian regimes like Beijing’s,” Pompeo said in the article, published Sept. 18.

He noted how throughout the 20th century the Catholic Church’s “power of moral witness” played a role in ending communism throughout central and eastern Europe, and in challenging “autocratic and authoritarian” regimes in both Latin America and East Asia.

“That same power of moral witness should be deployed today with respect to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said, noting that the Second Vatican Council and popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have all upheld the position that religious freedom is “the first of civil rights.”

“What the Church teaches the world about religious freedom and solidarity should now be forcefully and persistently conveyed by the Vatican in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to bend all religious communities to the will of the Party and its totalitarian program,” he said.

Pompeo made specific reference to abuses to China’s Uighur Muslim population, including forced sterilizations and abortions, and detention in “re-education” camps. He also pointed to abuses such as arbitrary detainment and house arrest for Catholic priests and laypeople, as well as the toppling of Christian churches.

He referenced the Vatican’s 2018 provisional agreement with China on the appointment of bishops, the terms of which “have never been publicly disclosed,” but which is believed to allow the pope to make a final choice from a selection of candidates nominated by the Chinese government.

While the Holy See hoped the deal would improve the situation for Christians on the ground, Pompeo said that two years later, “it’s clear the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the party’s depredations, to say nothing of the party’s horrific treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and other religious believers.”

As part of the 2018 deal, “the Vatican legitimized Chinese priests and bishops whose loyalties remain unclear, confusing Chinese Catholics who had always trusted the Church,” Pompeo said, noting that many church-goers still avoid state-sanctioned places of worship because out of fear “they will suffer the same abuses that they witness other believers suffer at the hands of the Chinese authorities’ increasingly aggressive atheism.”

The Vatican’s agreement with China is set to expire at the end of this month. Top officials on both sides have indicated it is likely to be renewed.

Pompeo is reportedly scheduled to travel to Italy and the Vatican at the end of the month. According to Italian news agency AGI, Pompeo is set to make a Sept. 30 stop in Rome, during which he is expected to meet Pope Francis and Italian authorities.

In his article, Pompeo also pointed to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong over the new national security law imposed by Beijing which, among other things, bans what they define as acts of “terrorism,” “subversion,” and foreign interference in internal affairs.

Under the guise of the new law, several prominent Catholics and democracy advocates have been arrested, including Martin Lee, considered to be the ‘father of democracy’ in Hong Kong, and Limmy Lai, an outspoken media tycoon and democracy advocate.

“I know both men and can attest to their goodness and sincerity of heart,” Pompeo said, noting that many nations, including the U.S., have expressed ‘revulsion’ at China’s “accelerating violations of human rights.”

“History teaches us that totalitarian regimes can only survive in darkness and silence, their crimes and brutality unnoticed and unremarked,” he said.

Should the Chinese Communist Party manage “to bring the Catholic Church and other religious communities to heel, regimes that disdain human rights will be emboldened,” he said, “and the cost of resisting tyranny will rise for all brave religious believers who honor God above the autocrat of the day.”

“I pray that, in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party, the Holy See and all who believe in the divine spark enlightening every human life will heed Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John, ‘The truth will set you free.’”