By Jeff Mason and Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) – A moved US President Joe Biden, who returned from his visit with the support of the Pope in his dispute with the conservative American bishops, on Sunday praised Pope Francis for being “everything I admire in the world. Catholicism”.
Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history, choked on his late son Beau and his own feelings about the Pope and Catholicism at a recent Rome press conference at the end of the G20 summit of leaders of the richest nations in the world.
“He’s a man with great empathy. A man who understands that part of his Christianity has to reach out,” Biden said. “He’s a really, really genuine man.”
Conservative American bishops want to deny Biden the right to receive Communion, the central sacrament of faith, because of Biden’s support for abortion rights.
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The same bishops, some of whom supported Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, clashed with the Pope over issues such as climate change, the death penalty and nuclear weapons.
Biden has said he personally opposes abortion but, as an elected official, cannot impose his point of view on others.
“He’s everything I admire about Catholicism since I was a kid, from elementary school to high school,” Biden said.
Apparently referring to the pope’s criticism, Biden said, “I have great respect for people with other religious views, but he’s just a good, decent, honorable man, and we keep in touch.”
After meeting with the Pope on Friday, Biden said the pontiff told him he was a “good Catholic” who could receive the sacrament.
This is exactly what Biden did when he went to mass the next evening at St. Patrick’s, the English-speaking church of the American Catholic community in Rome.
Biden spoke in response to a reporter who asked him what he thought of the pope’s support and if that meant the communion debate needed to be halted.
He responded by praising the Pope as a person “seeking to establish peace, decency and honor, not just in the Catholic Church, but just generically.”
Biden choked on remembering how, when Francis visited the United States in 2015, when Biden was vice president, the pontiff took time to console the extended Biden family over the death of Biden’s son , Beau, earlier that year at the age of 46.
“He didn’t just talk about it generically (Beau’s death from brain cancer), he knew it. He knew what he was doing, he knew who he was, he knew where he was going to. ‘school, he knew what a man he was, “Biden said.
“It had such a cathartic impact on his (Beau’s) children, and my wife, our family, it meant a lot,” Biden said.
(Written by Philip Pullella, edited by Daniel Wallis)
Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.