Biden Travels to the Vatican Ahead of G20 Meeting

By Bree Dail
Bree Dail
Bree Dail
October 30, 2021 Updated: October 30, 2021

VATICAN—President Joe Biden traveled to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis Saturday prior to attending the G20 summit. For the 46th president of the United States, who has professed himself a Catholic, this would be his fourth time meeting the leader of his church, but the first since he took his position as the leader of the free world.

Press access, however, was not clearly defined in the run-up to the meeting, as only two days prior to the scheduled event, no details had been shared on timelines, and no availability was provided to journalists independent of the Catholic city-state to document the meeting.

Rumors began circulating that, although topics of great import—including that of the ongoing controversies surrounding Biden’s stance on abortion and the public corrections he has received by members of the Catholic Hierarchy, including Raymond Cardinal Burke, once the senior-most authority in Church law and prominent American in the College of Cardinals—might be discussed, the press (and therefore the public), would not be permitted access.

On Oct. 26, CBS News White House correspondent Sara Cook asked press secretary Jen Psaki if the White House was working to rectify access to the press corps. Psaki stated, “What I can assure you of is that we are working through every lever we have to advocate for access for the press when the president visits the Vatican—we believe in the value of the free press … we are going on a visit, so I can’t offer you a guarantee.”

In the Vatican, the accredited press had already received word that all live streaming video had been canceled, and the only access for the press would be that within the courtyard upon the arrival of the president, for photos and video recordings for later posting. It was made clear that Vatican state-run media would control the details of the meeting, and issue a blurb as to the discussions between the Pope and Biden, along with some edited video clips and official photos. This censorship led to the White House issuing a public complaint for record.

The Epoch Times contacted Matteo Bruni, head of the Holy See Press Office, as the cancellation sparked rumors that the president would seek to use the media blackout to push for affirmation of his ability to lead as a pro-abortion politician while receiving Holy Communion—perhaps from the Pope himself at a private Mass. With U.S. Catholic bishops currently drafting a document that potentially addresses this issue, a move such as this with the head of the Catholic church would be seen as definitively declared by the highest authority. Actions or statements by the Roman Pontiff to the contrary would powerfully undermine the president’s platform for Catholics who support him. The need for clarity, then, was essential to what easily could become smoke and mirrors for the general public, but no response came from the press office.

On Oct. 27, EWTN White House correspondent Owen Jensen asked Psaki to clarify whether such conversation topics listed within press releases for Pope Francis and President Biden, “grounded on respect for fundamental human dignity,” would include “human dignity of the unborn”. Psaki stated that, “We expect a warm and familiar dialogue. You are familiar with where the president stands—he’s somebody who stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important. The Pope has spoken differently.”

On the eve of the president’s arrival and in lieu of continued silence from the Vatican, Cardinal Burke issued a lengthy and clearly defined statement on “Catholic politicians and the non-admittance to Holy Communion.” Outlining the code of law within the Catholic church, binding all ministers to it, he stated that in his own time as a bishop in the United States, “I must note that the pastoral action taken had nothing to do with interfering in politics. It was directed to the safeguarding of the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist, to the salvation of the souls of the Catholic politicians in question—who were sinning gravely not only against the Fifth Commandment but also were committing sacrilege by receiving unworthily Holy Communion—and to the prevention of the serious scandal caused by them.”

On Oct. 29, The Epoch Times was one of only a few correspondents accredited to the Holy See, permitted within the San Damaso Courtyard to document the arrival of the president. No questions from the press would be permitted, the ceremony and greeting only taking minutes before the president and first lady were escorted inside by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza for their private audience.

The meeting reportedly lasted over 75 minutes, after which the Vatican state-run media began posting photos and edited video clips on internal forums for press use, with citation. Shortly after, the Holy See Press Office issued a statement on the Vatican’s daily Bulletino, outlining the conversation between the Pope and Biden, with no mention of abortion.

Photos and videos showed a relaxed Biden offering gifts, both personal and on behalf of the American people, to the Pope—including a historical handwoven vestment in the style still worn by clergy who celebrate the Usus Antiquior, a traditional form of liturgy recently restricted by the Pope. The president also was shown handing the Pope a challenge coin, a tradition for U.S. military commanders (or in this case, commander-in-chief) to give to leaders they meet. On the coin was the presidential seal, and a symbol of Delaware’s Army National Guard’s 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, in honor of his son, Beau.

Later in the day, the AP published a headlining story that Biden spoke with reporters, revealing the details of his lengthy talks with the Pope as he was greeting Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in Rome. The president stated that the Pope told him “he was happy I’m a good Catholic” and that he should “keep receiving communion.” The Epoch Times was among several outlets to immediately contact the Holy See Press Office, asking for a statement to confirm if this was said by the Pope—knowing the level of political, moral, and religious implications of such a statement—and if any video or audio supported the president’s attribution.

Director Matteo Bruni responded to journalists that “I would consider it a private conversation,” and the Vatican would only confirm what was said in the public statement—leaving the general public to rely upon the veracity of Biden’s recollection.

After meeting with a host of world leaders at the G20 Summit Saturday, including French President Emmanual Macron, Biden is set to fly to Glasgow on Sunday for the Climate Change Summit where he is expected to deliver an address on U.S. recommitment to the movement.

Bree Dail