President Joe Biden said Friday that Pope Francis told him he should continue to be allowed to receive communion, a sacrament some Catholic leaders in the U.S. have said the president should be denied over his support for abortion rights.
Biden, a practicing Catholic, met with the pope Friday at the Vatican to discuss a broad set of topics, including climate change, global poverty and the distribution of vaccines to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Biden is only the second Catholic president in U.S. history and has long sought to keep aspects of his faith shielded from public view.
Following their meeting, Biden told reporters that the topic of abortion did not come up in their conversation.
“We just talked about the fact that he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving communion,” Biden said, according to pool reports.
Asked specifically whether Francis said that Biden should keep receiving communion, Biden responded “yes.”
The press office of the Vatican’s Apostolic Nunciature to the United States, the Holy See’s embassy in Washington, did not immediately respond to an email seeking confirmation of Biden’s readout of his meeting with the pope.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the set of bishops and cardinals who comprise the church’s hierarchy in the U.S., has publicly debated whether to rebuke pro-choice politicians by denying them communion — a cornerstone rite of Catholicism. While on the campaign trail in 2019, a South Carolina priest denied Biden communion, going so far as to switch lines with another minister in order to do so.
Francis has declined to wade into simmering U.S. debate, other than to warn against politics seeping into such decision-making and urge clerics to minister with “compassion and tenderness.”
Biden also said he gave a prayer while with Francis and that the pope “said one for me” and blessed the president’s rosary — which he carries in honor of his late son, Beau.
Biden said he did not take communion on Friday and rebuffed questions about whether the pair discussed the U.S. Conference of Bishops during their conversation, calling it a “private conversation.”
Biden’s meeting with the pope ran for over an hour, longer than expected, and is the first leg of Biden’s multiday trip to Europe, the second of his 10-month-old presidency. Later Friday Biden met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi at Chigi Palace in Rome.
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