Divisione Produzione Fotografica/AP
VATICAN CITY — President Biden, a devout Catholic who has nonetheless found himself at odds with many faithful over his support of abortion rights, met Friday at the Vatican with Pope Francis, where the leaders discussed climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and global poverty.
At the start of his European tour, Biden and first lady Jill Biden were greeted in the cobblestone courtyard by Vatican officials. A line of Swiss Guards stood at attention to the side, and an American flag flew over the doorway.
The president went down the receiving line, shaking hands and at one point, he introduced himself saying, “I’m Jill’s husband.”
Among those accompanying the Bidens in the U.S. delegation are Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Friday’s meeting, which lasted roughly an hour and a half, marks only the second time a Catholic U.S. president has met the pontiff. The first was President John F. Kennedy. Biden, as a staunch Roman Catholic, was approaching the meeting as both a diplomatic and personal engagement, according to the White House.
The White House said Biden’s private visit with Pope Francis was to be followed by a delegation meeting to discuss major, mutual topics.
Biden lauds the pope’s leadership on climate, the pandemic and his work to end poverty
“In his audience with Pope Francis today, President Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution,” the White House said in a statement.
It added that Biden lauded the pope’s 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.”
Biden gave Francis a challenge coin with the seal of the United States on one side and the insignia of the president’s late son Beau Biden’s Delaware National Guard unit on the other. The president told the pontiff that such coins are given to “warriors and leaders.”
“You are the most significant warrior for peace that I have ever met, and with your permission I’d like to be able to give you a coin,” Biden said.
“Now the tradition is, and I’m only kidding about this, that next time I see you, you don’t have it, you have to buy the drinks. I’m the only Irish man you’ve ever met who’s never had a drink,” Biden said.
The pope responded with a laugh saying he wants whiskey.
Biden’s stance on abortion and support of same-sex marriage has prompted calls within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to deny him Holy Communion. But that’s an issue that’s viewed as between the president and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, his local bishop and archbishop of Washington. Francis has warned against politicizing the Eucharist and says he has never denied Communion to anyone.
Access by White House photographers during the one-on-one between the two leaders was to be limited and images of the meeting were only going to be distributed by the Vatican.
This move drew criticism from the White House Correspondent’s Association President Steven Portnoy, who tweeted, “It is deeply unfortunate that WH news photographers won’t be permitted to capture pictures of Biden with the pope today.”
After the president’s visit to the Vatican, he will go on to meet with other global leaders at the G20 summit and then COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
Biden arrived later at Italy’s presidential palace, where he was expected to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Biden ends the day meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, where the two are likely to discuss a controversial nuclear submarine deal between the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia that has angered France. The pact caused Australia to cancel an agreement to buy non-nuclear submarines from Paris.
Scott Detrow reported from Vatican City; Scott Neuman and Jaclyn Diaz reported from Washington.