ROME (AP) – Just hours after arriving in Rome, President Joe Biden will meet Pope Francis on Friday at the Vatican, where the world’s two most notable Roman Catholics plan to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and poverty.
The president is proud of his Catholic faith, using it as a moral guide to shape many of his social and economic policies. Biden wears a rosary and attends mass frequently, but his support for abortion and same-sex marriage rights has put him at odds with many American bishops, some of whom have suggested he should be denied Communion.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki previewed the visit that she expected a “warm and constructive dialogue” between the two leaders.
“There are a lot of agreements and overlaps with the President and Pope Francis on a range of issues: poverty, tackling the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” Psaki said. “These are all extremely important and hard-hitting issues that will be the center of their discussion when they meet.”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the president and pontiff will meet privately and then meet with larger delegations. Biden travels to Rome, then Glasgow, Scotland, for back-to-back summits, first a rally for leaders of the Group of 20 leading and developing nations, then a global climate conference.
As only the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, Biden has clearly made his audience with the Pope a priority. This will be his first scheduled meeting on his five-day overseas trip and his wife, Jill, will also be in attendance. Biden and the Pope have met three times already, but it will be their first meeting since Biden became president.
After the papal meeting, Biden will meet separately on Friday with the hosts of the Group of 20 summit, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He will end his day by meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, as part of an effort to restore relations with France after the United States and the United Kingdom decided to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, thus canceling an existing French contract.
Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis sparked some controversy ahead of time as the Vatican abruptly canceled plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden live on Thursday and denied press access. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised TV plan reflected the virus protocol for all heads of state, although he did not say why more robust live TV coverage had been initially scheduled and then canceled.
Viewers will only see the arrival of the presidential procession in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where a Vatican Monsignor will greet Biden. There will be no live broadcast of Biden greeting Francis in the palace throne room, nor live footage of the two leaders seated to begin their conversation in Francis’ library.
The Vatican said it would provide edited footage of the meeting after the fact to accredited media.
A live broadcast was particularly important as the Vatican has banned independent photographers and journalists from papal audiences with leaders since early 2020 due to the coronavirus, even though external news media are allowed to participate in other papal events. .
The move comes as U.S. bishops are scheduled to meet in about three weeks in Baltimore for their annual fall convention. Among the agenda items at this convention is an effort by the Conservatives to disqualify Biden from Communion. Any document emerging from the event is unlikely to refer to the president by name, but he could still face some form of reprimand.
Francis stressed that he will not reject political leaders who support abortion rights, although Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose to prevent people from receiving Communion.
Over the years, Vatican meetings between presidents and popes have had their share of difficult times.
President Ronald Reagan struggled to keep his eyes open on his first visit to the Vatican in 1982. When George W. Bush met Pope Benedict XVI, his overly casual demeanor was noted by many Italians and Vatican observers. as he addressed the Pope as “sir,” rather than the usual “your holiness,” and as he leaned far back in his chair. When Donald Trump met Francis in 2017, with whom the president had a thorny relationship, photos showed a stone-faced Francis standing next to a smiling Trump.
President Biden has long made his faith the cornerstone of his identity, writing in his 2007 memoir “Promises to Keep” that Catholicism gave him a sense of “self, family, community, world. at large. He admits to being angry with God after his first wife and baby daughter died in a traffic accident in 1972, but Biden said he never doubted the existence of God.
In a 2007 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Biden said he believed his faith was universal enough to accept those with different views.
“My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine,” Biden said. “There are elements within the church that say if you disagree with any of the teachings of the church, you disagree with the church. I think the church is bigger than that.
AP writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this report.