Rome – In a face-off at the Vatican, President Joe Biden held an extended and highly personal conversation with Pope Francis on Friday and said the pontiff told him he was a “good Catholic” and should continue to receive communion, although conservatives They have been called out of sacrament because of their support for abortion rights.
Two of the world’s most prominent Roman Catholics ran overtime in their discussions on climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic, a heated conversation that also touched on the loss of the president’s adult son and included jokes about aging well.
Biden said the issue of abortion did not come up in the meeting. “We just talked about the fact that he was happy that I was a good Catholic and that I should keep getting Communion,” Biden said.
The president’s support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage has put him at odds with several American bishops, some of whom have suggested that he should be denied Communion. US bishops are due to meet at their annual fall convention in mid-November, and just weeks after their boss spends so much time with Biden, he will find himself debating a possible rebuke of the US president that all his subsequent meetings take an hour. canceled for. .
Videos released by the Vatican showed several warm, relaxed moments between Francis and Biden as they repeatedly shook hands and smiled. Francis often wears a scary look, especially in official photos, but he seemed to be in good spirits on Friday. The private meeting lasted about 75 minutes, according to the Vatican, with the pontiff more than twice the normal length of the audience,
The pair sat opposite each other at a desk in the papal library, accompanied by a translator. They then proceeded to exchange gifts and an extensive meeting including the First Lady and top officials.
“Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict and oppression,” the White House said. “He commended Pope Francis’s leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to end the pandemic for all through vaccine sharing and a equitable global economic recovery.”
Biden takes pride in his Catholic faith, using it as a moral guide to shape his social and economic policies. He wears garlands and participates in the weekly month.
After leaving the Vatican, Biden said they had an “amazing” meeting and that the Pope prayed for him and blessed his rosary. He said the prayer was about “peace”.
A dozen Swiss guards in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red-winged halberds stood at attention in the San Damaso courtyard when Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived. He was greeted by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal house, and then one by one greeted the Pope usher, or papal gentlemen, who stood in the courtyard.
“It’s good to be back,” Biden said as he shook hands with one of them. “I am Jill’s husband,” she said another, before being taken to the Apostolic Palace containing the frescoes and upstairs to the Pope’s personal library.
According to the Vatican, Biden presented Francis with a woven chasmble, or liturgical vest, made in 1930 by the famous papal tailor Gamarelli and used by the Pope’s Jesuit Order in America, where it was the Holy Trinity. Church, was held in Biden’s archives. Regular Parish in Washington. The White House said it would donate to charity in the Pope’s name.
Biden held what is known as a challenge coin in the palm of the Pope during a handshake, and called Francis “the most important crusader for peace ever found”.
Individual coins depict references to Biden’s home state of Delaware and his late son Beau’s military unit, the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade. Biden told Francis that Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, wanted him to present the coin to the Pope.
“Tradition is there, and I’m only joking about it, but the next time I see you, if you don’t have it, you have to buy drinks,” Biden said, referring to the coin. He continued: “I am the only Irish person you have ever met who has never drank.”
Francis laughed and replied: “Brought Irish whiskey.”
Biden, 78, also relayed the story of American baseball player Satchel Paige, a black pitcher who played late in his fifties, in a parable about aging. “‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” Biden quoted Page as saying. “You’re 65, I’m 60,” Biden said, as Francis, 84, pointed his head and laughed.
The Vatican said Francis presented Biden with a ceramic tile depicting the pilgrim’s statue, as well as a collection of the Pope’s key teaching documents. In the Vatican video, he can be heard asking Jill Biden to “pray for me”.
The warm meeting was in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s 2017 meeting with Francis, with whom the former president had thorny ties. Photos from that 30-minute meeting showed a stone-faced Francis standing beside Trump with a smile. Biden’s meeting was longer than the 52 minutes that Barack Obama spent with Francis in 2014.
Biden is visiting Rome and then Glasgow for back-to-back summits, first a gathering for leaders of the Group of 20 major and developing countries and then a global climate summit.
Biden and Francis have met three times before, but Friday was the first meeting since Biden took office.
Biden also met separately with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Friday, the host of the G20 summit. He ended the day with French President Emmanuel Macron after the US and Britain decided to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, thwarting a lucrative French contract in the process.
Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis has already sparked some controversy as the Vatican abruptly scrapped plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden live on Thursday and denied free press access. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised television plan reflected virus protocols for all heads of state, although he did not explain why more robust live TV coverage was initially scheduled and then cancelled.
Instead the Vatican provided edited footage of the encounter to accredited media.
A Vatican spokesperson declined to comment on Biden’s remarks about Communion, noting that the Vatican does not comment on the Pope’s private conversations beyond what is written in an official communiqué, which makes no mention of the issue. .
The American Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement after the Vatican meeting that did not address Biden’s remarks about communion. Instead, the statement suggested that the president would not be singled out in any documents coming out of the bishops’ meeting next month.
“The purpose of the document is to talk about the beauty of meeting Jesus Christ at the Eucharist and is addressed to all Catholics,” the statement said.
Questions sent by the Associated Press to the seven bishops involved in the debate did not immediately respond.
Francis has insisted that he would not reject political leaders who support abortion rights, although Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose whether or not to prohibit people from taking Communion.
AP Religion writer David Crary in New York contributed to this report.