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Updated - Biden on Communion: Who said what?

Editor’s note: This story is developing, and will be updated as statements become available. Last updated, Oct. 31, 3:00pm ET.

President Joe Biden met with Pope Francis Friday morning, reportedly talking privately in the pope’s office for nearly 75 minutes.

Pope Francis met with President Joe Biden Oct. 29 at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media.

A remark from President Biden after his meeting with the pope has made international headlines. Biden told reporters that the pope told him to continue receiving Holy Communion — a comment that has stoked considerable reaction, as bishops in the United States have for months been debating “Eucharistic coherence,” and the question of whether Catholic politicians who support legal protection for abortion should be admitted to Holy Communion.

The situation in Rome is still unfolding. But here’s who said what, as of Sunday Oct. 31 at 3:00 pm ET:

President Biden

Biden spoke to reporters at the Palazzo Chigi, where the president was scheduled to meet Italy’s prime minister after his meeting with the pontiff. Asked whether the subject of abortion had come up between pope and president discussed abortion, Biden said:

“No, it didn’t. It came up — We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic, and I should keep receiving Communion.”

Biden was then asked directly whether the pope said he should continue receiving communion. Biden said “Yes.”

Biden was subsequently asked whether he had received the Eucharist that day, on Friday. He said no.

The next question was whether Biden and the pope had discussed the U.S. bishops’ conference. The president hesitated for moment, and then said it was a “private conversation.”

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At a press conference Sunday, Biden was asked what it meant for him to see “the conservative wing of the Catholic Church moving to deny someone like you, a Catholic president, the Catholic sacrament of Communion…What did it mean for you to hear Pope Francis call you a good Catholic. And should what he told you put this debate to rest?”

Biden said:

“Look…a lot of this is just personal. Pope Francis has become — I don’t want to exaggerate - has become someone who provided great solace for my family when my son died.”

“He has, in my view — there’s always been this debate in the Catholic Church, going back to Pope John XXIII, that talks about how we reach out and embrace people with differences. If you notice what the pope said when he was asked, after he was first elected, ‘what’s your position on homosexuality?’”

“He said, ‘Who am I to judge?’ This is a man who is of great empathy, who understands that part of his Christianity is to reach out and to forgive, and so I just find my relationship with him one that I personally take great solace in. He is a really, truly, genuine decent man.”

Biden said that after his son died, Pope Francis came to the United States in 2015. Biden traveled with the pope in Philadelphia:

“The wounds were still raw of the loss of my son, and I had my extended family…and before he left and got in the plane the pope asked whether he could meet with my family. And we met in a hangar at the Philadelphia airport. And he came in and he talked to my family for a considerable amount of time, 10 or 15 minutes, about my son Beau. And he didn’t just generically talk about him, he knew about him…he knew what a man he was. And it had such a cathartic impact on his children, on my wife, and our family that it…it meant a great deal.”

“This is a man who is someone who is looking to establish peace and decency and honor, not just in the Catholic Church but just generically. When I won he called me, to tell me how he appreciated the fact that I would focus on the poor, and focus on the needs of people who were in trouble.”

“Again, I don’t want to more about about it, because so much of this is personal, but, he is everything I learned about Catholicism from the time I was a kid going from grade school to high school. And I have great respect for people who have other religious views, but he is just a fine, decent, honorable man, and we keep in touch.”


The Vatican

After the meeting, the Vatican press office issued a statement, saying that the president “was received in audience by the Holy Father Francis and subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.”

“During the course of the cordial discussions, the Parties focused on the joint commitment to the protection and care of the planet, the healthcare situation, and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the theme of refugees and assistance to migrants. Reference was also made to the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and conscience.”

According to the NY Times, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni was asked to confirm Biden’s remarks. Bruni said it was a “private conversation.”

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The White House

An Oct. 29 White House statement said:

“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.”

U.S. bishops

Neither the U.S. bishops’ conference nor Biden’s own bishops, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington and Bishop William Koenig of Wilmington, have issued statements on the president’s remarks.

But on the bishops’ pending document on the Eucharist, which will be debated at a meeting next month, the USCCB told The Pillar Friday that:

“The statement being developed that the U.S. bishops will discuss at the November meeting is intended to speak to the beauty of meeting Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and is addressed to all Catholics.”

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