US President Joe Biden had an unusually long meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on October 29, Reuters reported.
The agency notes that it took place against the backdrop of the heated debate in the United States over the support of the Catholic president for the right to abortion. The Holy See said the personal meeting lasted an hour and 15 minutes, and then another 15 minutes were spent photographing and exchanging gifts in the presence of other members of the US delegation, including First Lady Jill Biden.
The pope’s conversation with then-US President Donald Trump in 2017 lasted about half an hour, and with his predecessor Barack Obama in 2014 – approximately 50 minutes, notes Reuters.
The issue of abortion was not explicitly mentioned in subsequent official statements at the White House-Vatican meeting.
The US presidency said Biden thanked Francis “for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict and persecution.” He also praised the pope for “his leadership role in combating the climate crisis, as well as his calls for vaccine sharing and a balanced economic recovery of the world to make the pandemic an end for all.”
The Vatican said the two discussed “caring for the planet”, health, pandemics, refugees, migrants and “the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and freedom of conscience”.
The President of the United States presented the Pope with a souvenir coin and told him: “You are the most important peace fighter I have ever met.” Biden then joked with Francis, telling him, “The next time I see you, if (the coin) isn’t with you, the drinks will have to be from you, (but) I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met who he never drank. “
The audience passed under heightened security measures due to the forthcoming G20 summit in Rome tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. The conversation between the first Latin American pope and the second Catholic president in the history of the United States also took place amid heated debates in the American Catholic Church, where Biden is under pressure from conservatives for his controversial stance on abortion.
The US president, who regularly attends weekly Masses and holds a portrait of the pope over his desk in the Oval Office, says he is personally against abortion, but adds that as an elected leader, he cannot impose his views on others.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the first of two important cases this year challenging a series of state-level abortion restriction laws backed by Biden’s opponents from the Republican Party. Opponents of abortion hope the Supreme Court will overturn its iconic 1973 Row v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion across the country.
Trump appointed three conservative judges to the Supreme Court, tilting the balance in the highest court in the United States even further to the right.
Biden’s most outspoken critics in the Catholic Church hierarchy in the United States have even argued that he should be barred from receiving Holy Communion.
After the meeting, the US president said, quoted by the Associated Press, that they had not discussed the issue of abortion with the pope. Francis said Biden should continue to receive Holy Communion.
“He was glad I was a good Catholic,” Biden said. “I have to keep going to the sacrament,” he added, referring to the pope’s words.
In addition, Biden said that he prayed with the Pope, and he prayed for him, and also blessed his rosary.
Some Catholic bishops in the United States suggested that Biden abstain from communion in the church, since he, like most Democrats, supports abortion, which the Catholic Church does not accept.
Biden is only the second Catholic president in US history after John F. Kennedy. He attends Mass regularly and wears prayer beads.