*Discuss Climate Change
As President Joe Biden embarks on only his second overseas trip, he started with a personally poignant audience with Pope Francis on Friday, the first time in more than half a century that a Roman Catholic U.S. leader has met at the Vatican with the head of the Catholic Church.
Biden, only the second Catholic elected president after John Fitzgerald Kennedy, spoke of the moment’s significance last month.
“I happen to be a practicing Catholic and one of the things I like about my pope today is he’s all about renewal and forgiveness, that’s what that’s what he’s about. And I look forward to — I hope I get to see him in the not-too-distant future,” Biden said in September.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House said “President Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution. He lauded Pope Francis’ leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to ensure the pandemic ends for everyone through vaccine sharing and an equitable global economic recovery.”
Overshadowing the meeting, though, was criticism from conservative U.S. bishops over Biden’s political position on abortion.This is not the first time the two have met. In fact, the pair have spent more time together than perhaps any previous U.S. president and pope — a distinction not lost on Shaun Casey, a senior fellow at Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University.
“They’ve known each other for the entire papacy. And this will not be their first meeting, which I think makes it fairly unique in American presidential history, it may be even in papal history that these two guys know each other to a degree that no other analogous pair do.” said Casey, who served as a special representative for religion, and global affairs to Secretary of State John Kerry during the Obama administration
“These guys know each other, and I think they’re comfortable with each other and they have a relationship that seems to be very warm and very genuine.”
“Biden draws meaning and sustenance and healing from how the church has been with him during his grief over his long public career. And so in essence, there’s a pastoral bond there, in addition to the sort of social teachings bond that they share.
Francis is not the only pope Biden has met in his nearly 50 years in Washington. Biden also met with Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, and in 1980, the then-senator met for 45 minutes with Pope John Paul II.
“He kept kidding me about how young I am,” Biden said. The president also recalled “discussions with the pope were relatively uninterrupted, even though several times during their conversation aides knocked on the library door, only to be waved away by John Paul.”