Italy's new rightist PM Meloni gets 'cordial' Vatican audience

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Italy's new rightist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met Pope Francis and top Vatican officials on Tuesday, holding what the Holy See called "cordial discussions".

Meloni, who took office in October at the helm of the most right-wing government in Italy's postwar history, is a staunch Catholic conservative.

In a tweet, she said it had been "an honour and a strong emotion to have the chance to talk to the Holy Father on the big issues of our time."

The 45-year-old politician is opposed to abortion, suspicious of LGBT rights, and has famously defined herself as "a mother", "an Italian" and "a Christian".

Nevertheless, there are also potential fault lines between her and the pope, as Francis is a vocal defender of migrants' rights while she advocates tough border policies.

"I admit that I have not always understood Pope Francis," Meloni wrote in her 2021 autobiography, in which she expressed a preference for the late Pope John Paul II.

She added that she hoped to be able to meet Francis "one day", as "his big eyes and his straight talk would be able to give a meaning to what I cannot comprehend".

On Tuesday the pair met for 35 minutes, after which Meloni spoke to Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican's foreign minister.

"During the cordial discussions," Meloni, Parolin and Gallagher talked about "a number of issues relating to the Italian social situation", including poverty, family issues, education and the demographic crisis, a Vatican statement said.

They also talked about Europe, Ukraine and migration, the statement added, without going into details.

Meloni went into the papal meeting dressed in black, accompanied by her unmarried partner, a TV journalist, and their six-year-old daughter.

Following tradition, she and the pope exchanged gifts, including an angel statuette that Meloni - a collector of the items - gave to Francis.

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini and Crispian Balmer, editing by William Maclean)