Biden chokes up as he praises Pope Francis for his friendship

US President Joe Biden (left) with Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican on Oct 29, 2021.
US President Joe Biden (left) with Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican on Oct 29, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

ROME (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Joe Biden, the second Roman Catholic to serve as US president, emotionally recounted his meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican and spoke passionately about the support the Pope has provided over the years.

"He is everything I learnt about Catholicism from the time I was a kid going from grade school through high school," Mr Biden, who attended Catholic schools throughout his childhood, said on Sunday (Oct 31) at a press conference at the end of the Group of 20 leaders meeting in Rome, which he had also used as an opportunity to visit Vatican City.

"He is just a fine, decent honourable man. And we keep in touch," the President added.

Mr Biden largely sidestepped a question about efforts by conservative US bishops to ban him from receiving communion because of his support for legalised abortion, noting that popes since John XXIII, who served from 1958 to 1963, have talked about "how we reach out and embrace people with differences".

He mentioned that when Pope Francis was asked about his views on homosexuality, he said, "Who am I to judge?"

A few hours after his Friday meeting with Pope Francis, Mr Biden offered a bit more insight into where the Pope stands on the US bishops' efforts, saying the Pope told him he should continue receiving communion.

While Mr Biden said he did not want to get too "personal" about Pope Francis' significance to him, he offered two personal stories about their relationship.

The Pope "provided great solace for my family" after his elder son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015, Mr Biden said. "I lost the real part of my soul when I lost my Beau, my son," he said, choking up.

When Pope Francis visited the United States just a few months after Beau's death, he spent meaningful time with Mr Biden, who was then Vice-President, and his extended family.

"He didn't just generically talk about him. He knew about him. He knew what he did. He knew who he was. He knew where he went to school. He knew what a man he was," the President recalled. "It had such a cathartic impact on his children and my wife and our family that it meant a great deal."

Mr Biden also offered some details of the congratulatory call he received from the Pope after he won the presidency last November.

"He called to tell me how much he appreciated the fact that I would focus on the poor and focus on the needs of people who are in trouble," the President said.