U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Friday, in what is branded as a personal and political audience, ahead of the G-20 leaders’ summit in Rome about the global economy, followed by a summit on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland.
The president and first lady Jill Biden were welcomed by the head of Papal Household, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza. Around noon the first couple had a private audience with the pope before participating in a broader delegate meeting, which on the U.S. side included Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O‘Malley Dillon.
The White House declined to say whether Biden will take Holy Communion from Pope Francis – a sensitive issue amid demands from some that a Catholic president who supports abortion should be barred from it.
“That’s something that’s very personal, as you can imagine,” Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told VOA aboard Air Force One on the way to Rome. “His faith is something that’s very personal to him. I don’t have anything to share at this time about that.”
Biden will likely face the 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 perches 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 both of Francis’ predecessors. During a visit to the United States in 2015, Biden has said, the pope took time to talk with the future president and his family not long after the death of Biden’s son, Beau.
This papal audience will not be filmed live. On Thursday, the Vatican canceled a planned live broadcast of the meeting.
This is more than just a visit between two powerful men with millions of fans and at least as many critics. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday the meeting, while primarily personal, would also cover important policy issues.
The White House said the two, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, would “discuss working together on efforts grounded in respect for fundamental human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis and caring for the poor.”
“First, there’ll be the obvious personal dimension,” Sullivan said. “… And they will have a chance just to reflect, each of them, on their view of what’s happening in the world. On policy issues, of course, in the international realm, they’ll be talking about climate and migration and income inequality and other issues that are very top of mind for both of them.”