By JOSH BOOK, ZIKE MILLER & NICOLE WINFIELD
ROME (AP) – Face to face at the Vatican, President Joe Biden held lengthy and very personal talks with Pope Francis on Friday and left, saying that the pontiff told him he was a “good Catholic” and should continue to receive communion, although Conservatives have urged to refuse from the sacrament because of his support for the right to abortion.
Two of the world’s most prominent Catholics have worked too hard in their discussions on climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic, in a warm conversation that also touched on the loss of the president’s adult son and included jokes about aging well.
Biden said abortion was not discussed at the meeting. “We just talked about how happy he is that I’m a good Catholic and should continue to receive communion,” Biden said.
The president’s support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage has put him at odds with many US bishops, some of whom have suggested that he refuse the sacrament. American bishops are due to meet at their annual fall conference in mid-November, and they will find themselves discussing a possible rebuke to the US president just weeks after their boss spent so much time with Biden that all subsequent meetings were thrown back by an hour. …
The video, released by the Vatican, featured several warm, relaxed moments between Francis and Biden as they repeatedly shook hands and smiled. Francis often looks grim, especially in official photos, but he looked in good spirits on Friday. According to the Vatican, the private meeting lasted about 75 minutes, more than double the usual duration of an audience with a pontiff.
The couple sat across from each other at a writing desk in the papal library, accompanied by an interpreter. They then moved on to an exchange of gifts and a broader meeting with the first lady and senior officials.
“Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the poor and suffering from hunger, conflict and persecution,” the White House said. “He praised Pope Francis for his leadership in the fight against the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to stop the pandemic for all through the exchange of vaccines and a fair global economic recovery.”
Biden is proud of his Catholic faith, using it as a moral guide in shaping his social and economic policies. He wears a rosary and goes to Mass weekly.
After leaving the Vatican, Biden said he had a “wonderful” meeting and that his dad had prayed for him and blessed his rosary. He said the prayer was for “peace.”
A dozen Swiss guards in uniforms with blue and gold stripes and helmets with red feathers stood at attention in the courtyard of San Damaso when Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived. They were received by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal house, and then greeted one by one the papal bailiffs or papal gentlemen lined up in the courtyard.
“Nice to be back,” Biden said, shaking hands with one of them. “I am Jill’s husband,” he told the other before he was escorted into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the Pope’s private library.
According to the Vatican, Biden presented Francis with a woven robe or liturgical vestment made in 1930 by the famous papal tailor Gammarelli and used by the papal Jesuit order in the United States, where it was kept in the archives of Trinity Church, Biden’s Church. regular parish in Washington. The White House has said it will make a donation to charity on behalf of the Pope.
Biden also put the so-called challenge coin into the Pope’s palm during the handshake and called Francis “the most significant peace fighter I have ever met.”
The personalized coin depicts Biden State, Delaware, and a reference to the military unit of his late son Bo, the 261st Tactical Communications Brigade of the theater. Biden told Francis that Bo, who died of brain cancer in 2015, would like him to give the coin to his dad.
“It’s a tradition and I’m just kidding about it, but the next time I see you, if you don’t have one, you’ll have to buy drinks,” Biden said, referring to the coin. He added: “I am the only Irishman you have ever met who has never drunk.”
Francis laughed and replied, “The Irish brought whiskey.”
Biden, 78, also told the story of American baseball player Satchel Page, a black pitcher who played late in his fifties, in the parable of aging. “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” Biden quoted Paige as saying. “You’re 65, I’m 60,” Biden added when 84-year-old Francis pointed to his head and laughed.
According to the Vatican, Francis presented Biden with ceramic tiles depicting the pilgrim’s iconography, as well as a collection of the Pope’s basic teaching documents. In the Vatican video, one could hear him asking Jill Biden to “pray for me.”
The warm welcome stood in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s 2017 meeting with Francis, with whom the former president had an uneasy relationship. In photos from that 30-minute meeting, Francis stood stone-faced next to a grinning Trump. Biden’s meeting also lasted longer than the 52 minutes that Barack Obama spent with Francis in 2014.
Biden travels to Rome and then Glasgow for summits, first a meeting of the leaders of the Group of 20 leading and developing countries, and then a global conference on climate.
Biden and Francis had previously met three times, but Friday’s meeting was their first since Biden became president.
Biden also met separately on Friday with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He ended the day with French President Emmanuel Macron trying to rebuild relations after the United States and Britain decided to provide Australia with nuclear submarines, canceling a lucrative French contract.
Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis caused some controversy in advance, as the Vatican on Thursday abruptly canceled plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden and denied access to the independent press. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised television plan reflects viral protocol for all heads of state, although he did not say why the more reliable live television broadcast was originally planned and then canceled.
Instead, the Vatican provided the accredited media with edited footage of the meeting.
A Vatican spokesman declined to comment on Biden’s remarks about the Sacrament, noting that the Vatican does not comment on the Pope’s personal conversations beyond what is written in the official communique, which does not mention the issue.
The Conference of the Catholic Bishops of the United States issued a statement after the meeting in the Vatican, which ignored Biden’s remark about the sacrament. Instead, the statement said the president would not be highlighted in any document that would appear at the bishops’ meeting next month.
The document “is intended to tell about the beauty of the meeting with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and is addressed to all Catholics,” the statement said.
There was no immediate response to inquiries sent by the Associated Press to the seven bishops participating in the debate.
Francis emphasized that he would not reject political leaders who support abortion rights, although Catholic politics allows individual bishops to choose whether to prohibit people from receiving communion.
New York-based AP writer David Crarey contributed to this report.
This story was first published on October 29, 2021. It was updated on October 30, 2021 to correct that the Swiss guards wore helmets with red feathers rather than halberds with red feathers.