President Biden, a devout Catholic who has nonetheless found himself at odds with many faithful over his support of abortion rights, will meet Friday at the Vatican with Pope Francis. The two are expected to discuss climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other topics.
At the start of his European tour, Biden and the first lady were greeted in the courtyard by Vatican officials. The president went down the receiving line, shaking hands and at one point, he introduced himself saying, “I’m Jill’s husband.”
Friday’s face-to-face marks only the second time a Catholic U.S. president has met the pontiff. The first was President John F. Kennedy. Biden, as a staunch Roman Catholic, was approaching the meeting as both a diplomatic and personal engagement, according to the White House.
The White House said Biden will have a private visit with Pope Francis, which will be followed by a delegation meeting to discuss major, mutual topics. Top of mind is climate change and other environmental concerns.
Biden’s stance on abortion has prompted calls within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to deny him Holy Communion, but the two are not expected to discuss that. It’s an issue seen as between the president and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, his local bishop and archbishop of Washington. Francis has warned against politicizing the Eucharist and says he has never denied Communion to anyone.
Biden is also scheduled to meet with the Cardinal Secretary at the Vatican, according to the White House.
Access by White House photographers during the one-on-one between the two leaders was to be limited and images of the meeting were only going to be distributed by the Vatican.
This move drew criticism from the White House Correspondent’s Association President Steven Portnoy, who tweeted, “It is deeply unfortunate that WH news photographers won’t be permitted to capture pictures of Biden with the pope today.”
After the president’s visit to the Vatican, he will go on to meet with other global leaders at the G20 summit and then COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.