Want to play Three Guesses? Hint: It’s the topic most on the minds of American bishops. See if you can guess what it is. And it’s not the Irish and whiskey, which got discussed in the Vatican’s edited montage of the Joe Biden-Pope Francis meeting:
📹 HIGHLIGHTS | Pope Francis and President Joe Biden met privately in the Vatican for around 75 minutes. After their conversation, they participated in a customary exchange of gifts. The encounter was Biden’s fourth time meeting the pope, but his first as president. pic.twitter.com/buDO8QWv3k
— EWTN News (@EWTNews) October 29, 2021
Statement from the Vatican on today's meeting between Pope Francis and President Biden. pic.twitter.com/EEar6eL1Eg
— Ines San Martin (@inesanma) October 29, 2021
If you haven’t yet figured it out, Crux correspondent Elise Ann Allen gives us the big reveal:
In one of his most keenly anticipated meetings since taking office in January, United States President Joe Biden met with Pope Francis at the Vatican Friday for a lengthy conversation that touched on a variety of issues of shared interest.
An Oct. 29 White House statement said that Biden thanked Pope Francis thanked Pope Francis “for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution” during the 75-minute conversation.
Biden also “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.”
There was no mention of abortion or life issues, on which Biden is known to be at odds with official Church teaching, in the statement.
This may explain why the Vatican made the last-minute decision to ditch the live coverage of the audience and issued an edited montage instead. If Pope Francis decided not to challenge Biden on abortion, that might have looked, well, awkward to the American bishops hoping for some support on their efforts to fight pro-abortion Catholic politicians from misleading the faithful. As it stands now, this omission sends a very loud signal back to the USCCB on their upcoming meeting to discuss the consequences of such public contradictions to church teachings.
It is interesting, however, that Francis apparently raised issues of “freedom of religion and conscience” in his meeting with Biden. Those are also acute issues on which the USCCB has fought both the Obama and Biden administrations. If that came up in the context of the American church, then perhaps Francis just decided to pick his battles and let the USCCB fight on the abortion front. If it came up in the context of foreign relations, well … that would also be another opportunity missed.
But is that what happened? Let’s look at what the White House have to say about the meeting and see if we can suss that out. Despite its unusual length, their version of the meeting sounds even shorter and has a lacuna of its own:
In his audience with Pope Francis today, President Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution. 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.
Note well that “freedom of religion and conscience” doesn’t appear at all in the White House readout. That difference hints that Francis may have driven those points home to Biden regarding the American church after all. That would be a welcome intervention, but the failure to highlight Biden’s unrepentant advocacy for abortion — at least in the public statement — is a disappointment.