The Vatican on Thursday abruptly canceled the planned live broadcast of U.S. President Joe Biden meeting Pope Francis, the latest restriction to media coverage of the Holy See.
The Vatican press office provided no explanation for why the live broadcast of Biden’s visit had been trimmed to cover just the arrival of the president’s motorcade in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where a Vatican monsignor will greet him.
UPDATE from CNN, with this explanation:
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vatican has not admitted journalists to be present for the beginning of the Pope’s meetings with heads of state, a practice which has been common for years at the Vatican. Despite a formal letter of complaint from the Vatican press corps, the Vatican has yet to reinstate journalist pools at papal meetings.
The Vatican has also canceled the planned live broadcast of the Pope’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, due to take place just before the meeting with President Biden.
White House Correspondents Association President Steven Portnoy said in a statement that the association “joins Vatican reporters in expressing our disappointment that the world won’t see live pictures of President Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis.”
“The White House told us the bilateral meeting would involve Biden and Francis discussing substantive matters of global significance ‘including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.’ Such an international news event demands independent coverage,” Portnoy said.
Meanwhile, Vatican watchers are weighing in on what to expect from the meeting scheduled for Friday.
From The New York Times:
When Joseph R. Biden Jr. visits the Vatican on Friday, he will be the third American president Francis has met since becoming pope in 2013. Each has marked a distinct phase not only of his papacy, but also of the political upheaval in the United States and in its Roman Catholic church.
President Barack Obama shared Francis’ global magnetism, celebrity wattage and a focus on immigrants, climate change and the poor. President Donald J. Trump, whose Christianity Francis once questioned for his anti-immigrant policies, ushered in a populist era that helped sideline Francis.
Now Mr. Biden, a Catholic who rarely misses Sunday Mass, arrives at a moment when the political polarization in America has seeped deeply into its Catholic church. The president and pope, who share common ground on many issues, have become common targets of powerful conservative American bishops seeking to undercut them.
The most hostile among them, appointed by Francis’ conservative predecessors, have either ignored or resisted the pope’s efforts to reorient the priorities of the church toward inclusion and social justice, and away from culture war issues like abortion and L.G.B.T.Q. rights.
They have amplified their critiques of both men through a conservative Catholic media constellation that is Trump-friendly. Despite a clear warning from the Vatican, they have pursued an effort to deny holy communion to Roman Catholic politicians supportive of abortion rights — including Mr. Biden.
Even from Rome, the enmity is hard to miss.
“He is aware of the hostility,” said Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and close ally of Francis, adding, “It’s a matter of fact.”
Vatican officials and experts said they doubted that the antagonism of American bishops would come up in the private audience between Francis and Mr. Biden, and that they would instead talk about issues like addressing climate change, caring for the poor and ending the pandemic. Francis is likely to press the president to ramp up coronavirus vaccine distribution to the developing world, and he rarely misses the chance to speak out against arms dealing and the consequences of war.
NPR has this take:
Ahead of President Biden’s visit with Pope Francis on Friday, a question was posed in a White House briefing about whether the meeting will be “personal or formal,” and the answer from national security adviser Jake Sullivan was, “Both.”
Biden is just the second Catholic president, and while John F. Kennedy took pains to downplay his faith, Biden often places it front and center. He quoted St. Augustine in his inaugural address and regularly cites Pope Francis in speeches.
Biden has talked and written about praying the Rosary in the Situation Room during the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
…Biden’s religion is so engrained in his public persona, yet at the same time he and his staff treat the matter as deeply private. For all those moments Biden has made it central to his public identity, the White House often bristles at questions about his faith; they make sure reporters are nowhere near the church services he attends.
… Francis’ audience with Biden at the Vatican on Friday will, of course, be a formal sitdown between two heads of state. It will also be an opportunity for two kindred spirits to compare notes on common goals on global issues, as well as more basic parallels in their lives.
“These are older guys in their last jobs. No one else really thought they would be here. Biden was done. [Then-Cardinal Jorge] Bergoglio was too old. And now, here they are,” said John Carr, the director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
And there’s this, from The Hill:
President Biden, only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, will have an audience with Pope Francis on Friday, a meeting that comes amid increasing focus on the issue of abortion rights, which Biden has made a priority of defending.
The Supreme Court has agreed to review Texas’s six-week abortion ban after legal challenges from the Biden administration, and the president faces a lawsuit in Ohio for overturning a Trump-era ban on abortion referrals, all while U.S. Catholic bishops are debating whether Biden should be denied communion over his stance on the procedure.
The White House said topics in the meeting, which first lady Jill Biden will also join, include the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and caring for the poor, all issues where Biden and the pope have common ground.
… [Biden’s] abortion stances have led to a formal statement coming next month from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the meaning of Holy Communion, which will include whether pro-choice politicians such as Biden should be denied it.
The decision to proceed with its drafting runs counter to the wishes of the pope, who has cautioned American bishops against denying communion to politicians and warned that the rite shouldn’t be used as a political weapon.
“It’s clear that the Vatican and Pope Francis are really trying openly to protect Joe Biden’s access to the sacraments. They are protecting Biden’s Catholicism from the attacks of the U.S. bishops, and not just because they are concerned about Joe Biden but because they are concerned about what’s happening to Catholicism in this country,” said Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University.