President Biden received Holy Communion on Saturday night at St. Patrick’s Church in Rome, a day after announcing that Pope Francis told him during their long private meeting at the Vatican that he should continue to take the sacrament .
Some conservative bishops in the United States have said the president, a Catholic and regular practitioner, should be denied Communion because of his support for the right to abortion.
Mr Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attended mass at St. Patrick’s, an English-speaking church dedicated to the American Catholic community, after a day of high-level negotiations at the Group of 20 summit.
“It meant a lot to the American Church in Rome that he made that special effort to be present and worship with us,” said Rev. Steven J. Petroff, rector of the church, who offered Communion to Mr. Biden.
Father Petroff had heard of Mr. Biden’s remarks about Francis telling him that he was a “good Catholic” and that he should continue to receive Communion. But this news, said the priest, changed nothing for him.
“If the Pope hadn’t said anything, I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” said Father Petroff. Yet, he said, the pope’s words, as relayed by Mr. Biden, were “important and clarifying” and “reassuring”.
The Vatican had refused to confirm or deny Mr Biden’s account, claiming it was a private conversation.
Earlier this month, Nancy Pelosi also visited St. Patrick’s Day, near the U.S. Embassy, but was forced to leave before receiving Communion because security officials determined that a violent protest in proximity against a health pass posed a threat.
Father Petroff said he allegedly gave Communion to Ms Pelosi and was proud to have given it to Mr Biden. He simply did what he was trained to do, he said, namely to offer the Eucharist, which he called a “gift to be shared”, to the president, who was in the lineage of a few dozen ‘other faithful on Saturday evening.
“He was online like everyone else,” said Father Petroff. “The people in front of him and the people behind him.”
At the end of Mass, Father Petroff recognized the presence of Mr. Biden, who was standing on a back bench with his wife. He greeted him and thanked him – and said he prayed for him and for the work he did.
Parishioners applauded, he said.
As the Bidens left the church, Father Petroff joked to Mr. Biden, who often speaks of his Irish heritage, that he had no choice but to visit a church named St. Patrick’s. The president, he said, joked that he also had Italian roots.
It was as if Mr. Biden “had it all covered,” he said.