- The Washington Times - Friday, October 29, 2021

President Biden and Pope Francis spent 90 minutes together Friday in a closed-door meeting at the Vatican.

Details of their discussion were slow to emerge from the meeting, which the Vatican a day earlier decided to keep private and abruptly canceled plans for a live TV broadcast of the meeting.

A White House official described the meeting as “very warm.”

“There was laughter and clear rapport between President Biden and Pope Francis,” the official said.

In a statement, the Vatican said the talks enabled “an exchange of views on some matters regarding the current international situation, also in the context of the imminent G20 summit in Rome, and on the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation.”

Earlier, when the president and first lady Jill Biden arrived at the Vatican, Mr. Biden was greeted by Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, who runs the papal household. Mr. Biden and the first lady then went down a receiving line of Vatican dignitaries and greeted them.

“It’s good to be back,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m Jill‘s husband.”

Mr. Biden, only the nation’s second Catholic president who attends Mass regularly, and Pope Francis were expected to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, combating climate change, and alleviating poverty worldwide.

The two men are mostly in agreement on these issues, though the pope was expected to press Mr. Biden to share more COVID-19 vaccines with poor countries.

The 90-minute meeting, which was of great interest to the 70 million U.S. Catholics, took place shrouded in privacy.

On Thursday, the Vatican canceled a planned live broadcast of the event. The original plans for the meeting called for live coverage of Pope Francis and Mr. Biden greeting each other before starting a private conversation.

Instead, the Vatican will now release edited footage of their greeting and sit down after the fact to press. The Vatican did not explain the sudden change and its press shop did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Times.

The White House deferred questions about media access for the visit to the Vatican.

For weeks ahead of the meeting, reporters had pressed White House press secretary Jen Psaki to commit to event access during the daily press briefings.

“What I can assure you of is that we are working through every lever we have to advocate for access for the press pool and for press when the president visits the Vatican,” Ms. Psaki told reporters Tuesday. “We believe in the value of the free press. We believe in the value of ensuring you have access to the president’s trips and his visits overseas.”

She also insisted that press access to the meeting was out of the White House‘s control.

“We are going on a visit,” she said. “It is not a host here, so I can’t offer you a guarantee, but I can guarantee you we will continue to advocate.”

Reporters flocked to Twitter to slam the lack of press coverage of the historic meeting.

“The press access for the pope-Biden meeting is dreadful,” wrote Chico Harlan, Rome bureau chief for The Washington Post. “We’ll see Biden arrive and then….nothing. The Vatican yesterday abruptly cut plans for the press to be there for the initial greeting and pleasantries.”

Charlie Spiering, a reporter with Breitbart, blamed the White House.

“Humiliating. The Biden White House wanted it this way. Otherwise, they would have pressed for press access traditionally given to American presidents meeting the pope,” he wrote.

Press access to Mr. Biden‘s meetings with world leaders has become a thorny issue for the White House.

Journalists last month were clumsily rushed out of the Oval Office before Mr. Biden‘s meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr. Johnson took several questions from the British press. When American reporters started questioning Mr. Biden, White House aides shouted over them and rushed them out of the room.

The president attempted to answer a question about immigration, but the White House aides talked over his answer, rendering it undecipherable.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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