Biden at the Vatican to discuss climate and poverty with Pope Francis

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VATICAN CITY (AP) – Declaring it is “good to be back,” President Joe Biden on Friday opened a five-day European trip to the Vatican, where he and Pope Francis – the two most Roman Catholics world leaders – were planning to discuss the COVID -19 pandemic, climate change and poverty.

A dozen Swiss Guards in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red feathered halberds stood at attention in the courtyard of San Damaso for the arrival of Biden and his wife, Jill. They were received by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who heads the papal house, then greeted one by one the papal ushers, or papal gentlemen, who were queuing in the courtyard.

“It’s good to be back,” Biden said, shaking hands with one of them. “I am Jill’s husband,” he told another before being ushered into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the Pope’s private library.

The president is proud of his Catholic faith, using it as a moral guide to shape many of his social and economic policies. Biden wears a rosary and attends mass frequently, but his support for abortion and same-sex marriage rights has put him at odds with many American bishops, some of whom have suggested he should be denied Communion.

Biden arrived at the Vatican from the residence of the United States Ambassador to Rome in an unusually long procession of more than 80 vehicles, in part due to Italy’s COVID-19 restrictions on the number of people sharing a car.

No live footage or video of the meeting was expected, due to the Vatican’s last-minute restrictions on press access.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, previewing the visit, said she expected a “warm and constructive dialogue” between the two leaders.

“There are a lot of agreements and overlaps with the President and Pope Francis on a range of issues: poverty, tackling the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” Psaki said. “These are all extremely important and hard-hitting issues that will be the centerpiece of their discussion when they meet.”

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the president and pontiff will meet privately ahead of talks with larger delegations. Biden travels to Rome, then Glasgow, Scotland, for back-to-back summits, first a rally for leaders of the Group of 20 leading and developing nations, then a global climate conference.

As only the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, Biden has clearly made his audience with the Pope a priority. It was his first scheduled meeting of the trip. Biden and Francis have met three times already, but Friday’s meeting was the first since Biden became president.

After the papal meeting, Biden will meet separately on Friday with the hosts of the Group of 20 summit, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He will end the day by meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, as part of an effort to restore relations with France after the United States and the United Kingdom decided to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, thus canceling an existing French contract.

Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis sparked some controversy ahead of time as the Vatican abruptly canceled plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden live on Thursday and denied press access. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised TV plan reflected virus protocol for all heads of state, although he did not say why more robust live TV coverage had been initially scheduled and then canceled.

There will be no live broadcast or independent photographs of Biden greeting Francis in the palace throne room, nor live footage of the leaders starting their conversation in Francis’ library.

The Vatican said it would provide edited footage of the meeting to accredited media.

A live broadcast was particularly important as the Vatican has banned independent photographers and journalists from papal audiences with leaders since early 2020 due to the coronavirus, even though external news media are allowed to participate in other papal events. .

The move comes as U.S. bishops are scheduled to meet in about three weeks in Baltimore for their annual fall convention. Among the agenda items at this convention is an effort by the Conservatives to disqualify Biden from Communion. Any document emerging from the event is unlikely to refer to the president by name, but he could still face some form of reprimand.

Francis stressed that he will not reject political leaders who support abortion rights, although Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose to prevent people from receiving communion.

On the eve of Biden’s visit, a prominent American conservative cardinal and critic of Francis, Cardinal Raymond Burke, wrote a passionate plea for American bishops to deny Communion to Catholic politicians if they support human rights legislation. abortion.

Burke did not quote Biden’s name, but said such Catholic politicians caused a grave scandal to the faithful because Church law states that someone who “stubbornly perseveres in manifest grave sin” should not. not be admitted to communion.

Catholic politicians who support abortion rights “have, in fact, contributed significantly to the consolidation of a culture of death in the United States, in which induced abortion is simply a fact of daily life. Burke wrote.

Biden has long made his faith the cornerstone of his identity, writing in his 2007 memoir “Promises to Keep” that Catholicism gave him a sense of “self, family, community, the world at large. . He admits to being angry with God after his first wife and baby daughter died in a traffic accident in 1972, but Biden said he never doubted the existence of God.

He told the Christian Science Monitor in 2007 that he believes his faith is universal enough to accept those with different views.

“My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine,” Biden said. “There are elements within the church that say if you disagree with any of the teachings of the church, you disagree with the church. I think the church is bigger than that.

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