President Biden, only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, will have an audience with Pope Francis on Friday, a meeting that comes amid increasing focus on the issue of abortion rights, which Biden has made a priority of defending.
The Supreme Court has agreed to review Texas’s six-week abortion ban after legal challenges from the Biden administration, and the president faces a lawsuit in Ohio for overturning a Trump-era ban on abortion referrals, all while U.S. Catholic bishops are debating whether Biden should be denied communion over his stance on the procedure.
The White House said topics in the meeting, which first lady Jill Biden will also join, include the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and caring for the poor, all issues where Biden and the pope have common ground.
Francis has encouraged people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, is passionate about climate change and has devoted his papacy to helping the poor.
He is also strongly against abortion and considers it murder.
Biden has been committed during his presidency to a women’s right to choose. During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, he switched to opposing the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funds to be used to pay for abortions, after supporting it throughout his political career.
His abortion stances have led to a formal statement coming next month from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the meaning of Holy Communion, which will include whether pro-choice politicians such as Biden should be denied it.
The decision to proceed with its drafting runs counter to the wishes of the pope, who has cautioned American bishops against denying communion to politicians and warned that the rite shouldn’t be used as a political weapon.
“It’s clear that the Vatican and Pope Francis are really trying openly to protect Joe Biden’s access to the sacraments. They are protecting Biden’s Catholicism from the attacks of the U.S. bishops, and not just because they are concerned about Joe Biden but because they are concerned about what’s happening to Catholicism in this country,” said Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University.
“They are trying to avoid this mutation of Catholicism in this country into a partisan, sectarian church, which is contrary to the Catholic idea that it’s a big tent fundamentally,” he added.