U.S. President Joe Biden held an unusually long meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday as a debate raged back home about the Catholic president’s support for abortion rights.
The Vatican said the private meeting lasted one hour and 15 minutes and then about another 15 minutes were spent for picture taking and the exchange of gifts in the presence of other members of the delegation, such as Biden’s wife, Jill.
The meeting with former President Donald Trump in 2017 lasted about 30 minutes and one with Barrack Obama in 2014 lasted about 50 minutes.
A White House statement made no reference to the abortion issue.
It said Biden thanked the pope for “his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution”. Biden also praised the pope’s “leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to ensure the pandemic ends for everyone through vaccine sharing and an equitable global economic recovery”.
The Vatican was due to issue its own statement later.
The president’s motorcade earlier approached the Vatican under tight security, made even more intense because the Italian capital is simultaneously preparing to host the G20 summit of world leaders this weekend.
Swiss Guards in their traditional red, yellow and blue uniforms and holding halberds gave Biden and his wife an honour salute as they and the U.S. delegation arrived in the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace. The U.S. flag flew from the central balcony.
The head of the Pontifical Household, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, led them to the third floor of the palace, where formally attired ushers known as the “pope’s gentlemen” waited to escort them down frescoed halls to the official papal library.
“Thank you so much. It’s good to be back,” Biden told one of the officials on the receiving line in the courtyard. He then joked with another official who was talking to his wife. “I’m Jill’s husband,” Biden said.