Following face to face meetings with the Pontiff where they discussed serious issues like climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Biden took some time out to joke with Pope Francis, saying “the next time I see you, you have to buy the drinks.”
The Pope responded, through an interpreter, with a reference to Irish whiskey.
The president held extended and highly personal talks with Pope Francis on Friday and came away saying the pontiff told him he was a “good Catholic” and should keep receiving Communion, although conservatives have called for him to be denied the sacrament because of his support for abortion rights.
The world’s two most prominent Roman Catholics ran over time in their discussions on climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic, a warm conversation that also touched on the loss of president’s adult son and included jokes about aging well.
Biden said abortion did not come up in the meeting. “We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving Communion,” Biden said.
Video released by the Vatican showed several warm, relaxed moments between Francis and Biden as they repeatedly shook hands and smiled.
Francis often sports a dour look, especially in official photos, but he seemed in good spirits on Friday. The private meeting lasted about 75 minutes, according to the Vatican, more than double the normal length of an audience with the pontiff.
The pair sat across from each other at a desk in the papal library, accompanied by a translator. They then proceeded to an exchange of gifts and a broader meeting including the first lady and top officials.
"There may be people on either side of the Channel who may think they have an interest in somehow promoting disharmony between the U.K. and France, promoting the impression of disharmony," he said. "I don't think Emmanuel shares that perspective personally at all. I will be making that point."
“Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution,” the White House said. "He lauded Pope Francis’ 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.”
Biden takes pride in his Catholic faith, using it as a moral guidepost to shape his social and economic policies. He wears a rosary and attends Mass weekly.
A dozen Swiss Guards in their blue and gold striped uniforms and red-plumed halberds stood at attention in the San Damaso courtyard as Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived. They were received by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal household, and then greeted one by one the papal ushers, or papal gentlemen, who lined up in the courtyard.
“It’s good to be back,” Biden said as he shook the hand of one of them. “I’m Jill’s husband,” he told another before he was ushered into the frescoed Apostolic Palace and taken upstairs to the pope’s private library.
The personalised coin depicts Biden's home state of Delaware and a reference to his late son Beau's military unit, the 261st Theatre Tactical Signal Brigade. Biden told Francis that Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, would have wanted him to present the coin to the pope.
"The tradition is, and I’m only kidding about this, but next time I see you, if you don’t have it, you have to buy the drinks," Biden said, referring to the coin. He added: “I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met who's never had a drink.”
Francis laughed and responded: “The Irish brought whiskey.”
Biden (78) also relayed the story of American baseball player Satchel Paige, a Black pitcher who played late into his 50s, in a parable about aging. “'How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?" Biden quoted Paige as saying. "You’re 65, I’m 60,” Biden added, as Francis, 84, pointed to his head and laughed.
Francis presented Biden with a ceramic tile depicting the iconography of the pilgrim, as well as a collection of the pope’s main teaching documents, the Vatican said. In the Vatican video, he could be heard asking Jill Biden to “pray for me.”
The warm encounter stood in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s 2017 meeting with Francis, with whom the former president had a prickly relationship. Photos from that 30-minute meeting showed a stone-faced Francis standing beside a grinning Trump. Biden's meeting also was longer than the 52 minutes Barack Obama spent with Francis in 2014.
Biden is visiting Rome and then Glasgow for back-to-back summits, first a gathering for leaders of the Group of 20 leading and developing nations and then a global climate conference.
Biden and Francis have previously met three times, but Friday's encounter was their first since Biden became president.
Biden also met separately Friday with G-20 summit hosts Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He ended the day with French President Emmanuel Macron, trying anew to smooth relations after the U.S. and U.K. decided to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, scotching a lucrative French contract in the process.
Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis generated some controversy in advance as the Vatican on Thursday abruptly cancelled plans to broadcast the meeting with Biden live and denied independent press access. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised television plan reflected the virus protocol for all heads of state audiences, though he didn’t say why more robust live TV coverage had been initially scheduled and then cancelled.
The Vatican instead provided edited footage of the encounter to accredited media.
The Vatican spokesman declined to comment on Biden’s remarks about Communion, noting that the Vatican doesn’t comment on the pope’s private conversations beyond what is written in the official communique, which made no mention of the issue.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement after the Vatican meeting that didn't address Biden’s remark about Communion. Instead, the statement suggested that the president would not be singled out in any document emerging from the bishops’ meeting next month.
The document “is intended to speak to the beauty of meeting Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and is addressed to all Catholics,” the statement said.
Francis has stressed that he will not reject political leaders who support abortion rights, though Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose whether to prevent people from taking Communion.