Evidently, Catholic News Agency’s reporting on this non-event left something to be desired. (See the NCR update below.)
In a story June 14, 2021, about Joe Biden and Pope Francis, the Catholic News Agency, based on information provided by a source, erroneously reported that the U.S. President would meet with the pope on June 15. According to Vatican sources June 15, there is no meeting currently scheduled between Pope Francis and President Joe Biden.
A corrected version of the story is below:
President Joe Biden’s attendance at early morning Mass with Pope Francis was nixed from an early plan for the first meeting of both leaders, a reliable Vatican source told CNA.
President Biden is currently in Europe for several high level meetings, offering a potential opportunity to meet with Pope Francis. According to Vatican sources June 15, there is no meeting currently scheduled between the two men.
The President’s entourage had originally requested for Biden to attend Mass with the pope early in the morning, but the proposal was nixed by the Vatican after considering the impact that Biden receiving Holy Communion from the pope would have on the discussions the USCCB is planning to have during their meeting starting Wednesday, June 16.
To hear the EWTN-owned Catholic News Agency tell it, Biden was to make a quick stopover in Rome to meet with Francis on the way from Brussels to Geneva. A few immediate problems with that story: Rome is not on the way to Geneva (it is about 550 miles further south). And there is no evidence to show that such a meeting was ever on the agenda.
CNA originally reported on the possibility of a Biden-Francis meeting on June 3, citing unnamed Vatican sources. The outlet doubled down on the story June 14, reporting in a piece without a named author that the meeting would be happening on June 15, but Francis had nixed plans to celebrate Mass with Biden, a Catholic.
More problems: Come mid-morning in Rome, no meeting had taken place. Pedestrian traffic on Via della Conciliazione, the street leading into the Vatican, was not sealed off for security as it nearly always is when high profile visitors come calling on the pope. (When President Donald Trump met Francis in 2017, barricades were put up for blocks around the Vatican.)
By mid-day, Emily Zeeberg, a public affairs officer at the U.S. embassy to the Holy See, told NCR: “President Biden has no plans to visit Rome or Vatican City this week.” Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, also told NCR he had “no knowledge” of plans for such a visit between Biden and Francis.
The president’s official schedule for June 15 certainly did not leave much room for improvisation. He was due to hold private meetings with the king and prime minister of Belgium and the presidents of the European Council and Commission, before heading to Geneva for meetings with the president of the Swiss Confederation.