Joe Biden to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Oct. 29

President Joe Biden will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Oct. 29, the White House announced Thursday, a meeting that could create awkwardness ahead of a November meeting of U.S. bishops, who are expected to approve a document that could take aim at Catholic politicians who deviate from church teaching on abortion.

In a statement about the meeting, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki wrote that “they will discuss working together on efforts grounded in respect for fundamental human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.”

First Lady Jill Biden will accompany Mr. Biden during his visit to the Vatican, which will be his first since becoming president. The two previously met when Mr. Biden was vice president.

President Joe Biden will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Oct. 29, the White House announced Thursday.

Mr. Biden will be in Rome to attend the G20 Leaders’ Summit, held Oct. 30 to 31, before traveling to Glasgow, Nov. 1 to 2, to take part in the World Leader Summit at the start of the COP26 climate change gathering.

Earlier this month, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi participated in a Vatican meeting and was received in a private audience by Pope Francis. Images of Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi being received warmly by Pope Francis and other Vatican officials may create awkwardness as some U.S. bishops ratchet up confrontations with the two political leaders over their support for legal abortion.

Mr. Biden’s Vatican meeting will come just a couple of weeks before U.S. bishops meet for their fall meeting, during which they are expected to vote on a controversial statement about the Eucharist. Earlier this year, the bishops voted to move ahead with drafting the statement. During roughly two hours of contentious debate, some bishops said that the potential document would politicize the Eucharist, while others said Mr. Biden’s support for abortion rights made such a statement more urgent. Ultimately, bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of drafting the statement.

Mr. Biden’s Vatican meeting will come just a couple of weeks before U.S. bishops meet for their fall meeting.

The head of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, who pushed the drafting of the document, called Mr. Biden’s support of abortion rights “sad” in an Oct. 8 interview.

“He likes to call himself a devout Catholic. I would urge him to begin to act like one, especially on the life issues,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann told EWTN. “And to let his faith really inform his conscience and the decisions that he’s making, not the platform of his party.”

Mr. Biden may find a friendlier reception among church leaders in Rome than at home, a phenomenon that dates back to the earliest days of his presidency.

On the day of his inauguration, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement that some church leaders described as confrontational. That statement was criticized by some U.S. bishops and reportedly drew the ire of Vatican officials, who released a warmer statement, highlighting possible areas of agreement between the new administration and the church.

Mr. Biden may find a friendlier reception among church leaders in Rome than at home, a phenomenon that dates back to the earliest days of his presidency.

In March, Archbishop José Gomez announced that a special working group of bishops—which he convened shortly after the November 2020 election to focus on the new administration—had concluded its work. The idea of drafting a document about the Eucharist, which will be voted on this November, came from that group.

While a potential showdown between Mr. Biden and U.S. bishops has been brewing for months, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has thrown cold water on the notion that he would bar the president from Communion, and the pastor of Mr. Biden’s D.C. church has said he would not “weaponize” the Eucharist. Bishop William Koenig, who was installed as head of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., this summer, has sought to avoid the question altogether.

But across the country, in San Francisco, another bishop has escalated his criticism of the nation’s second most politically powerful Catholic.

In September, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone issued a statement “inviting all Catholics to join in a massive and visible campaign of prayer and fasting for Speaker Pelosi: commit to praying one rosary a week and fasting on Fridays for her conversion of heart.” This week, the Benedict XVI Institute, whose board Archbishop Cordileone chairs, announced it would spend $50,000 on digital advertising featuring the archbishop promoting the rosary campaign.

Ms. Pelosi posted photos on Twitter from a private audience with Pope Francis, describing the meeting as a “personal and official honor.”

Earlier this month Ms. Pelosi was at the Vatican, where she participated in a meeting hosted by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and posed for a photo with Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads the office. Days earlier, Cardinal Turkson said in an interview that he did not support barring Catholic politicians from Communion, even if they take political positions that put them at odds with church teaching.

The next day, Ms. Pelosi posted photos on Twitter from a private audience with Pope Francis, describing the meeting as a “personal and official honor” and calling the pope’s leadership “a source of joy and hope for Catholics and for all people, challenging each of us to be good stewards of God’s creation, to act on climate, to embrace the refugee, the immigrant and the poor, and to recognize the dignity and divinity in everyone.”

While U.S. bishops have devoted much attention to their disagreements with Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi over abortion, when it comes to the Vatican, the emphasis seems to be placed on agreements in areas such as migration and the environment.

In her keynote address to fellow legislators from around the world meeting in Rome Oct. 8, Ms. Pelosi said world governments must take bold action in their own countries, as well as when they meet for COP26 in Glasgow in November. She also invoked “Laudato Si’,” the pope’s 2015 encyclical on the environment.

Francis addressed the Pre-COP26 Parliamentary Meeting the next day and spoke of the “important, and indeed, crucial” role of governments in slowing climate change and restoring a healthy environment.

Material from the Catholic News Service was used in this story.

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