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Biden receives Communion in Rome amid debate in US

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Updated Saturday October 30, 2021 | 12:16

ROME (AP) – President Joe Biden received Communion at St. Patrick’s Church during Saturday Vigil Mass, a day after he said Pope Francis told him he should continue to take the Sacrament, despite opposition from some conservatives in the United States who are upset by its position on abortion.

Biden and his wife, Jill, visited the English-speaking Church which is the main place of worship for the American Catholic community in Rome and is located near the United States Embassy. The president stopped between events of the Group of 20 world leaders’ summit taking place in the city this weekend.

While Biden regularly receives Communion in his home dioceses in Washington and Delaware, it was significant that he also received Communion in Rome. The Pope is technically the Bishop of Rome, and while he delegates day-to-day administration to his Vicar, St. Patrick’s Parish is technically in the Pope’s Archdiocese. As such, Biden received Communion in the Pope’s Archdiocese.

About 30 people attended mass and security guards surrounded the aisles. The Bidens sat in the last row which had been cordoned off as “reserved” and entered quietly, just after the start of mass.

Reverend Joe Ciccone, Vice-Rector of St. Patrick’s and a member of the Paulista Order, was the main celebrant and was joined by the Rector of the ward, Reverend Steven Petroff, and a third priest. The Associated Press attended the service.

Ciccone’s homily was a meditation on love that he said he wrote a few days ago, before he knew the Bidens would attend. He said it was an honor to have them in the ward, and that Biden’s stance on abortion and whether to administer Communion was not an issue for him or for the ward.

“Communion is what brings us together in the Lord. None of us are pure and perfect. We struggle in life. We are all saints and sinners, ”Ciccone told The Associated Press after the service.

“And when you are a public figure, you have to make certain decisions, especially in a democracy, in the name of more than your own personal feelings,” he added.

No special announcement was made at the start of Mass about the Bidens’ presence although at the end Petroff noted that they were in the church. He greeted them, thanked them for coming, and offered prayers “for the important work” they are doing. A round of applause erupted from the benches.

Both Bidens wore masks throughout the service and kissed during the peace sign. The President put American money in the collection basket when a bailiff came to his bench.

The final hymn, to which the priests and then the Bidens came out, was “Peace be on Earth, and let it begin with me”.

The president’s support for abortion rights has put him at odds with many American bishops, some of whom have suggested he should be denied Communion. U.S. bishops are scheduled to hold their annual fall conference in mid-November and will find themselves debating a possible reprimand from a U.S. president.

Several conservative American bishops have expressed their dismay at the remarks reported by the Pope to Biden. Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Texas, retweeted a scathing blog post by conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke which strongly reaffirmed that Catholic politicians who support the right to abortion cannot receive the sacrament.

“Pray for the repentance of all who support the murder of the unborn child,” Strickland wrote.

Petroff, the rector of the parish who actually gave the Eucharist to Biden, said he never denied anyone the sacrament.

“First of all, I don’t know what’s going on in anyone’s head when they come to receive the Eucharist,” he told AP. “And secondly, I am not the police of the Eucharist. The Eucharist, as Pope Francis and many popes have said, is medicine for those in need.”

Biden told reporters on Friday that abortion was not discussed during his 75-minute meeting with Francis at the Vatican. “We just talked about how happy he was that I was a good Catholic and that I should continue to receive Communion,” Biden said.

The Vatican spokesperson declined to comment on Biden’s remarks on communion, noting that the Vatican does not comment on the Pope’s private conversations beyond what is written in the official statement, which makes no mention of the question.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement after the Vatican meeting that did not address Biden’s remark on fellowship. Instead, the statement suggested that the president would not be singled out in any documents emanating from the bishops’ meeting next month.

The document “is intended to speak of the beauty of meeting Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and is addressed to all Catholics,” the statement said.

Francis stressed that he would not reject political leaders who support the right to abortion, although Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose to prevent people from receiving Communion. When asked recently if he would deny Biden the sacrament, Francis did not answer “yes” or “no” but said bishops should be pastors, not politicians.

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Associated Press editors Zeke Miller and Trisha Thomas contributed to this report.


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