US President Joe Biden on Friday said Pope Francis had told him he should continue to receive Communion, after conservative US bishops suggested he should be denied Mass over his support of same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Speaking after a lengthy audience with the Pope, Mr Biden said abortion, which has become a defining issue within America's rancorously divided political landscape, did not come up in the Vatican meeting.
“We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving Communion,” the president said.
The world’s two most prominent Roman Catholics held personal discussions on climate change, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic that also touched on the loss of president’s adult son and jokes about aging well, the White House said.
Video released by the Vatican showed several warm, relaxed moments between Francis and Mr 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.
After leaving the Vatican, Mr Biden said he had a “wonderful” visit and that the pope prayed for him and blessed his rosary beads. Asked what the prayer was about, he replied, “Peace.”
Mr Biden then met separately with Group of 20 summit hosts Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
He also met with French President Emmanuel Macron, part of an effort to mend relations with Paris after the US and UK decided to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, scotching an existing French contract.
Mr Biden said the handling of the issue was "clumsy" and he was under the impression that France had already been informed that their deal with Australia was not going through.
Mr Biden's warm visit to the Vatican 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.
Mr Biden and the Pope have met three times previously, but this was their first since Mr Biden was elected president.
Mr Biden, who after John F Kennedy is only the second Catholic president, attends mass regularly and is open about his faith and how it has helped him through a series of family bereavements. He keeps a picture of the Pope behind his desk in the Oval Office.
While Mr Biden has said that his faith serves as a moral guidepost to shape many of his social and economic policies, his support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage has put him at odds with many US bishops.
The Bidens arrived at the Vatican in an unusually long motorcade of more than 80 vehicles, owing in part to Italian Covid-19 restrictions on the number of people allowed to share a car.
Mr Biden was received by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal household, and then, one by one, he greeted the papal ushers, or the papal gentlemen, who lined up in the courtyard.
“It’s good to be back,” Mr Biden said as he shook the hand of one of them.
Mr Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis generated some controversy in advance as the Vatican on Thursday abruptly cancelled plans to broadcast the meeting with him live and denied press access. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised television plan reflected the virus protocol for all audiences with heads of state.
Viewers were permitted to see only the arrival of the presidential motorcade in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.
Before the meeting, Pope Francis called on political leaders heading to Cop26 to urgently tackle the climate crisis to give “concrete hope to future generations”.
He said “radical decisions” are needed as the world faces a “succession of crises” in health care, the environment, food supplies and the economy.
In a special Thought for the Day message for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Pope Francis warned against countries taking an isolationist approach, and called for a “renewed sense of shared responsibility for our world”.
World leaders preparing to head to Glasgow for the climate summit are under pressure to increase their ambition to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.