“There is great agreement and overlap with the President and Pope Francis on a number of issues: poverty, fighting the climate crisis, ending the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Psaki. “These are all extremely important and powerful topics that will be the focus of your discussion when they meet.”
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president and pope would meet in private and then hold talks with expanded delegations. Biden visits Rome and then Glasgow, Scotland, for successive summits, first a meeting of the leaders of the Group of Top 20 and Developing Countries and then a global climate conference.
As only the second Catholic President after John F. Kennedy, Biden has made his audience with the Pope a clear priority. It will be his first scheduled meeting on a five-day trip abroad that his wife Jill will also attend. Biden and Francis have met three times before, but Friday’s encounter will be the first since Biden became president this year.
Biden was scheduled to arrive at the Vatican in an unusually long motorcade due to Italian Covid-19 restrictions on the number of people sharing a vehicle.
After the papal meeting, Biden will meet separately on Friday with the group of 20 hosts of Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He will end the day with a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron to improve relations with France after the US and UK decided to supply Australia with nuclear submarines and to break an existing French treaty.
Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis sparked some controversy in advance when the Vatican abruptly canceled plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden live on Thursday and refused access to the press. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised television schedule reflected the virus protocol for all heads of state, but didn’t say why more robust live TV coverage was initially planned and then canceled.
Spectators will only see the arrival of the President’s motorcade in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where a Vatican Monsignor will greet Biden. There will be no live broadcast or independent photos of Biden greeting Francis in the palace’s throne room, nor live footage of the two leaders sitting down to begin their conversation in Francis’ library.
The Vatican said it would distribute edited footage of the encounter to accredited media after the crime.
A live broadcast was particularly important because the Vatican has been banning independent photographers and journalists from papal audiences with leaders since the beginning of 2020 due to the coronavirus, although external news media are allowed to attend other papal events.
This decision is made because the US bishops are due to meet in Baltimore for their annual fall convention in about three weeks. One of the items on the agenda of this convention is the attempt by conservatives to exclude Biden from receiving communion. A document emerging from the event is unlikely to highlight the president by name, but he could still be reprimanded in some form.
Francis has stressed that he will not oppose political leaders who advocate the right to abortion, even though Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose whether to prevent people from taking communion.
On the eve of Biden’s visit, a leading Conservative US Cardinal and Francis critic, Cardinal Raymond Burke, wrote a passionate plea to US bishops not to give communion to Catholic politicians if they support abortion laws.
Burke did not quote Biden by name, but said that such Catholic politicians caused a serious scandal among the faithful as Church law required that anyone “very persistent in an apparent grave sin” should not be admitted to communion.
Abortion-advocate Catholic politicians “have in fact been instrumental in cementing a culture of death in the United States where procured abortions are an everyday occurrence,” Burke wrote.
Over the years the meetings between presidents and popes in the Vatican have had some uncomfortable moments.
President Ronald Reagan struggled to keep his eyes open on his first visit to the Vatican in 1982. As George W. Bush Pope Benedict XVI ”instead of the usual“ Your Holiness ”and when he leaned back in his chair. When Donald Trump met Francis, with whom the president had a spiky relationship, in 2017, photos showed a petrified Francis standing next to a grinning Trump.
President Biden has long made his faith a cornerstone of his identity, and in his 2007 memoir, Promises to Keep, wrote that Catholicism gave him a sense of “self, family, community, and the world.” He admits to being angry at God after the deaths of his first wife and young daughter in a traffic accident in 1972, but Biden said he never doubted God’s existence.
In a 2007 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Biden said he believed his beliefs were universal enough to accept people with different views.
“My views are completely in line with Catholic social teaching,” said Biden. “There are elements within the Church who say that if you disagree with any of the teachings of the Church, you are at odds with the Church. I think the church is bigger. “