Saturday, December 4, 2021

For Biden and Pope, the meeting is personal and political.

US President Joe Biden is accustomed to seeing how he combines his strong Roman Catholic faith – especially in matters of gender, sexuality, and reproduction – with his duty to lead a decidedly secular government.

On Friday, he will face these questions again at a meeting in the Vatican with Pope Francis, the Catholic leader who once helped the Biden family survive personal grief and who sits constantly behind the president’s shoulder in a framed photograph overlooking the Oval Office.

Administration officials said they met three times and exchanged letters, while Biden met with both of Francis’s predecessors. During a visit to the United States in 2015, Biden said, Dad took the time to speak to the future president and his family shortly after the death of Biden’s son Bo.

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This papal audience will not be filmed live. On Thursday, the Vatican canceled a scheduled live broadcast of the meeting, which Biden will be attending before heading to the G20 meeting in Rome and then to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

FILE – In this September 24, 2015 photograph, Pope Francis addresses the joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, making history as the first pontiff to do so.

This is more than just a visit from two influential people with millions of fans and at least the same number of critics. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that this meeting, primarily in person, will also touch on important political issues. The White House said the two, accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden, “will discuss working together on efforts based on respect for basic human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, overcoming the climate crisis and caring for the poor.”

“First, there will be an obvious personal dimension,” Sullivan said. “… And they will have the opportunity to simply reflect, each of them, about their vision of what is happening in the world. On policy issues, of course in the international arena, they will talk about climate, migration and income inequality. and other issues that are of great concern to both of them. ”

Abortion question

Sullivan did not say if the two men would discuss abortion, but they clearly disagree on this issue. The Catholic Church is unequivocally opposed to abortion. Biden, who says he personally disagrees with the procedure, as the president has resisted attempts by states and courts to restrict access to abortion.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said there will likely be “warm and constructive dialogue” between the two, focusing instead on their points of agreement.

Biden’s views are clear on abortion, she said.

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden listens to a member of the We Decide: Planned Parenthood Action Fund 2020 abortion and reproductive rights forum in Columbia, South Carolina on June 22, 2019.

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden listens to a member of the We Decide: Planned Parenthood Action Fund 2020 abortion and reproductive rights forum in Columbia, South Carolina on June 22, 2019.

“You know where the president is,” she said. “He is the one who defends and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important.”

The issue is a wedge between Biden and the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which is scheduled to meet in the coming weeks to discuss whether pro-abortion politicians should be barred from taking Holy Communion.

Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University and author of Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States, said the meeting could also influence the conflict between Biden and these conservative American clerics. Fajoli noted that Biden is only the second Catholic president, but now the circumstances have changed.

“John F Kennedy was not a bellicose Catholic fighting his bishops like he was with Joe Biden,” he told Voice of America. “In both this meeting and the (climate) summit in Glasgow a few days later, the stakes are very high because both the Pope and Joe Biden take climate change very seriously.”

Separation of church and state

And, according to Fajoli, it’s not just the president who wants to draw the line between church and politics.

“The Vatican and Pope Francis are actively trying to protect Joe Biden’s access to the sacrament – not defending Joe Biden’s policies, especially regarding abortion, but they are defending Joe Biden’s access to the sacrament because they fear that if the sacraments are used to make a political statement, Catholic the US church will lose its catholicity, which essentially means that it will not be a sectarian church, ”he said.

“Most likely it will be the elephant in the room,” he said. “But they agree with this idea that Catholicism is a big tent that should not be determined by political affiliation and, moreover, by party loyalty.”

The White House emphasizes that this meeting is primarily personal.

“I think the president’s faith, as you all know, is very personal to him,” said Psaki. “His faith has been a source of strength in the various tragedies that he has experienced in his life. Many of you who have ministered at the pool know that he goes to church every weekend, and of course I hope he continues to do so. , the fact that this is his – this will be his fourth meeting – he has a very personal relationship with Pope Francis. “

FILE - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, speaks to reporters outside the western wing of the White House in Washington on October 25, 2021, after meeting with President Joe Biden.

FILE – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, speaks to reporters outside the western wing of the White House in Washington on October 25, 2021, after meeting with President Joe Biden.

And, as the White House stressed, the president is ready to meet with other spiritual titans. Earlier this week, Biden received Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of 200 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.

“Our president here is a man of faith and vision, and we know he will offer this wonderful country and the world the best leadership and direction within his significant capacity,” Bartholomew said after a 45-minute meeting with Biden in the Oval Office.

More importantly, the patriarch noted, the two men used their enormous platforms to promote what other major religious leaders adhere to: widespread vaccination.

This story contains information from The Associated Press.

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