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Biden reveals Pope told him to keep receiving communion despite abortion row

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During his meeting with Pope Francis in Vatican City, President Joe Biden said the thorny issue of abortion didn’t come up – but that he has the Pope’s blessing to keep taking communion.

“We just talked about the fact that he was happy I’m a good Catholic,” Mr Biden told reporters after the meeting on Friday. “And I should keep receiving communion.”

The White House said earlier this week that the pro-choice president would not be discussing abortion with the Pope, who has called the procedure “murder.” A number of US bishops have argued that Mr Biden, who is Catholic, should not be allowed to receive communion because of his views on the issue.

But Pope Francis has resisted that approach to the Democratic president, with whom he holds many other policy concerns in common, including climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. In its summary of the meeting, the Biden administration emphasised those issues.

“Biden thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution,” the White House said. “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.”

In photos and videos of the meeting, the pair appeared to enjoy a warm, relaxed conversation. Pope Francis frequently laughed and smiled, in stark contrast to his dour composure at his meeting with the previous US president. According to the Vatican, the meeting lasted 75 minutes – significantly longer than the approximately 30 minutes the Pope spent with Donald Trump and 52 with Barack Obama.

Mr Biden, who goes to weekly mass regularly and keeps a picture of the Pope behind his desk in the Oval Office, has said he is personally opposed to abortion but cannot impose his views as an elected leader.

The Pope, meanwhile, has said that while the Church should oppose abortion, the issue should not become an all-consuming battle that distracts from matters such as immigration and poverty.

“Communion is not a prize for the perfect,” the Pope has said. “Communion is a gift, the presence of Jesus and his Church.”

During their meeting, Mr Biden also gave the Pope a specially minted coin, which he said bore a symbol of his late son Beau’s military unit. The president said Beau would have wanted Pope Francis to have it.

“I’m not sure this is appropriate, but there is a tradition in America that the president, that he gives to warriors and leaders,” Mr Biden said. “You are the most significant warrior for peace I’ve ever met, and I’d like to be able to give you a coin.”

He also added, jokingly, that if Pope Francis did not have the coin on him next time they met, “you have to buy the drinks.”

“I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met who’s never had a drink,” Mr Biden added.

“The Irish brought whiskey,” the Pope replied, laughing.

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