ROME – For only the second time in history, a Catholic U.S. president is meeting with the pope.
President Joe Biden’s motorcade arrived at the Vatican just before noon Rome time and was greeted by a dozen Swiss Guards in blue and gold striped uniforms.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden shook hands with Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, the head of Papal Household, in the San Damaso courtyard and then greeted a receiving line of about a half-dozen papal ushers, or gentlemen.
“It’s good to be back,” Biden said as he shook the hand of one of his greeters. “I’m Jill’s husband,” he said to another before he was ushered into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the pope’s private library.
Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis, which started shortly after his arrival, was held out of public view. The Vatican closed the meeting to the press, barring the TV cameras that typically are allowed in at the top of such meetings.
The Vatican said it canceled the planned live broadcast of the beginning of the meeting because of the coronavirus.
The White House has said the topics the leaders planned to discuss include ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.
But much attention has been put on whether the leaders will discuss an issue on which they disagree – Biden’s support for abortion rights.
One of the agenda items for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when it convenes in Baltimore in mid-November is whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be admonished for receiving Holy Communion.
In July, the bishops overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a “teaching document” that many of them hope will rebuke Catholic politicians for receiving communion despite their support for abortion rights. Though any document is unlikely to mention Biden by name, its passage would be a clear admonition of the U.S. president.
The meeting between the president and the pontiff comes amid a push by conservative bishops in the U.S. to keep politicians who support abortion rights from receiving communion.
Analysts said it was doubtful that Francis would challenge Biden’s support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage during their meeting but would instead focus on issues where they could find common ground.
The White House said the focus would be on concerns grounded in human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.
Though Friday’s meeting marked the first time Biden and Francis have met since Biden became president, they have met three times before.
In 2013, when Biden was vice president, he led the U.S. delegation to Francis’ formal installation as pope. The two men met again when the pontiff visited the U.S. in 2015 and when Biden visited the Vatican in 2016 to speak about cancer prevention at a conference on regenerative medicine.
After some private time with the pope Friday, Biden’s meeting was expanded to include other U.S. and Vatican officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Biden was scheduled to meet later with the Cardinal Secretary of State, followed by meetings with Italy’s president and prime minister and with French President Emmanuel Macron
Contributing: The Associated Press