President Joe Biden meets with Pope Francis in the Vatican
President Joe Biden meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday, in what qualifies as a personal and political audience, ahead of the G-20 leaders’ Rome summit on the global economy, followed by a climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Biden will likely face issues of gender, sexuality and reproduction, as he has tried over the years to reconcile his strong Roman Catholic faith with his duty to lead an explicitly secular government.
Francis once guided the Biden family through personal grief and perched permanently behind the president’s shoulder in a framed photo that overlooks the Oval Office.
The two have met three times and exchanged letters, administration officials said, and Biden met with Francis’ two predecessors. During a visit to the United States in 2015, Biden said the Pope took the time to meet with the future president and his family shortly after the death of Biden’s son Beau.
This papal audience will not be filmed live. The Vatican on Thursday canceled a scheduled live broadcast of the meeting.
It’s more than just a visit between two powerful men with millions of fans and at least as many critics. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Thursday that the meeting, while mostly personal, would also cover important political issues. The White House said the two, along with First Lady Jill Biden, “will discuss working together on efforts based on respect for basic human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, combating the climate crisis and caring for the poor “.
“First, there will be the obvious personal dimension,” Sullivan said. “… And they will just have a chance to reflect, each of them, on their vision of what is happening in the world. On political issues, of course, in the international arena, they will talk about climate, migration and income inequality. and other issues that are very important to both. “
The question of abortion
Sullivan did not say whether the two would discuss the abortion, but on this issue, they are clearly divided. The Catholic Church is unequivocally opposed to abortion. Biden, who says he personally disagrees with the procedure, has, as president, resisted efforts by states and courts to limit access to abortion.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the two would likely have “a warm and constructive dialogue” that instead focused on their points of agreement.
On abortion, she said, Biden’s views are clear.
“You know the president’s position,” she said. “She is someone who stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important.”
This issue is a rift between Biden and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which plans to meet in the coming weeks to debate the ban for politicians who support abortion from taking Holy Communion.
Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology at Villanova University and author of Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States, said the meeting could also affect the conflict between Biden and those conservative American clerics. Biden is only the second Catholic president, Faggioli noted, but the circumstances are different now.
“John Kennedy was not a besieged Catholic at war with his bishops like Joe Biden is,” he told VOA. “And there are big stakes in this meeting and in the Glasgow (climate) summit a few days later, because the Pope and Joe Biden both have climate change high on their priority list.”
Separate Church and State
And, said Faggioli, it’s not just the president who wants to draw a line between church and politics.
“The Vatican and Pope Francis are actively trying to protect Joe Biden’s access to the sacraments – don’t protect Joe Biden’s policies, especially on abortion, but they do protect Joe Biden’s access to the sacrament because” they are afraid that if the sacraments are used to make a political statement, the American Catholic Church will lose its catholicity, which essentially means, not to be a sectarian church, ”he said.
“It will probably be the elephant in the room,” he said. “But they agree that Catholicism is a big tent that shouldn’t be defined by political affiliations, let alone partisan loyalties.”
The White House emphasizes that this meeting is above all personal.
“I think the president’s faith is, as you all know, quite personal for him,” Psaki said. “His faith has been a source of strength through various tragedies he has experienced in his life. Many of you who have served in the pool know that he goes to church every weekend, and I I certainly expect him to continue to do so. So the fact that it is his – this will be his fourth meeting – he has a very personal relationship with Pope Francis. ”
And, as the White House has also pointed out, the president is ready to meet other spiritual titans. Earlier this week, Biden hosted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 200 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.
“Our president here is a man of faith and a man of vision, and we know that he will provide this wonderful country and the world with the best leadership and the best direction within his considerable power,” Bartholomew said after a 45-minute meeting with Biden in the Oval Office.
More importantly, the patriarch noted, the two have used their massive platforms to push for something other major religious leaders are also embracing: widespread immunization.
Some information for this report is from The Associated Press.