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Joe Biden Meets With Pope Francis At Start Of European Tour

Ahead of the G20 summit in Rome, President Joe Biden started off his five-day European trip by having a prestigious meeting with the most influential religious leader in the world – Pope Francis. As ABC News notes, this is the first time in more than half a century a Roman Catholic U.S. leader has met with the Pope.

Due to the role Biden’s personal faith plays in his daily life, the White House said prior that the meeting would be both “personal and formal,” and it showed – there was reportedly a “clear rapport” between the two world leaders.

The White House also provided a readout of the meeting, stating that Biden applauded Francis for his leadership in the fights against climate change and the pandemic, while thanking the Catholic Church head for his advocacy of the world’s less fortunate and “those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution.”

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The Associated Press reported that the meeting ran about 75 minutes, which is more than double the time an audience normally spends with the Pontiff. The two also participated in the typical gift exchange. Biden presented the Pope with a 1930 woven chasuble, along with a challenge coin. Meanwhile, Francis gave Biden a ceramic tile depicting pilgrim iconography.

Additionally, a note left for the Pope by Biden says that The White House will donate more clothes to charities on World Day for the Poor – a Catholic observance that occurs on Nov. 14.

As to what their closed-doors meeting consisted of, the White House said the two planned to discuss
“climate change, ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and caring for the poor.” However, the AP reported that the meeting may be overshadowed by criticisms from conservative U.S. bishops over Biden’s LGBTQ and abortion stance – which is pro-choice. The bishops believe that position should disqualify Biden from receiving communion.

Biden — whose wife, Jill, was among his visiting group — said that the Pope did not give him communion during their meeting. When asked about whether Francis and him discussed the bishops, Biden said that was a “private conversation.”

Biden, who’s the second Catholic to ever be a U.S. President (John F. Kennedy being the first), has met with the Pope three other times, with their last visit coming in 2015 during the Pope’s trip to the eastern United States. He is also the 14th President to meet with the Pope at the Vatican.

It appears the Vatican and the U.S. are once again heading towards good terms. During President Donald Trump’s original campaigning in 2016, there was harsh shade thrown on both sides. Francis criticized Trump for his border and immigration policies, calling out his pro-life hypocrisy.

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In response, Trump said it was “disgraceful” for the Pope to question his faith, and called him a pawn of the Mexican government. When Trump and his family visited the Vatican in 2017, the meeting went viral due to Francis’ somber facial expressions during photo ops.

To the disappointment of many, the planned live broadcast of Biden and Frances’ meeting was cancelled. Instead, the only live footage was of Biden’s motorcade arriving in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki spoke on the subject of the limited press access, and expressed the administration’s efforts to get the media more coverage.

“We believe in the value of the free press. We believe in the value of ensuring you have access to the president’s trips and his visits overseas.”

According to a Vatican spokesman, this reflected “normal procedure” that was established during the pandemic. The Vatican said it would provide edited footage of the meeting afterwards to accredited media members.

As Yahoo News explains, the Vatican had previously done live coverage of past meetings with various world leaders, such as Trump, and also had planned coverage for South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The live footage was even more important considering the Vatican no longer allows independent photographers and journalists into the papal audiences due to the pandemic.