On Friday, Pope Francis welcomed President Joe Biden to Vatican City for a meeting that the White House said would be both “personal and formal” in a news conference before the event.
The two world leaders met behind closed doors to discuss “working together on efforts grounded in human dignity,” with Biden praising the pope’s advocacy in fighting climate change ahead of next week’s United Nations conference on climate change (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, according to a White House news release. During their meeting, Biden called the pope “the most significant warrior of peace I’ve ever met,” and gave the pope a “challenge coin” with the U.S. seal on the front. The president also made several jokes, about the two men’s ages, his own sobriety, and said it was “good to be back,” as he was greeted at the Vatican.
The president then held a bilateral meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, during which the White House said Biden reiterated his gratitude for the Vatican’s active leadership in tackling the climate crisis, both through advocacy and by encouraging “hundreds of Christian organizations worldwide” to take action on climate change.
Biden later told the press he and the pope discussed their “moral responsibility to deal with [climate change].”
Six years ago, Pope Francis published his second encyclical, Laudato Si’, on “care for our common home,” lamenting environmental degradation and climate change. The landmark work calls for a global commitment to climate action because it is “urgent and necessary.” Next month, the Vatican will mobilize this call to action when it launches the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a collaborative, grassroots effort towards global sustainability.
Friday’s meetings come as Biden, the second Catholic U.S. president in history, faces conflict with some U.S. Catholic bishops who say he — and other politicians who support abortion rights — should be denied communion. In the United States, Catholics account for roughly one-fifth of the adult population.
Speaking to press at Chigi Palace in Rome after his meeting with the pope, Biden said the two talked about “the fact that he was happy I was a good Catholic and...keep receiving communion,” but did not speak directly about abortion. The Vatican has not issued a response contradicting or confirming the account.
Abortion is not Biden’s only policy concern at odds with U.S. Catholic bishops. Biden and the pope’s mutual emphasis on the worsening climate crisis is not shared by the majority of U.S. Catholic bishops, according to a Creighton University study published in Environmental Research Letters earlier this month.
The study’s authors examined over 12,000 columns published from June 2014 to June 2019 by bishops in official publications representing 96 percent of all U.S. dioceses. Their findings revealed a pattern of “silence, denial and views that align with conservative political ideology.”
Less than 1 percent of the columns mentioned climate change at all, and only 56 columns positioned it as something that is currently happening. Just 29 columns of the more than 12,000 reviewed described climate change as “urgent.”
“Our data suggest that as individuals, U.S. bishops have failed their duty to teach the fullness of Catholic faith that includes Church teaching on climate change,” said Daniel R. DiLeo, a Catholic theologian and one of the study’s authors. “Our findings also raise questions about whether U.S. Catholic bishops will support Vatican advocacy at the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference in November. The U.S. Catholic Church has tremendous potential to shape climate policy, but this requires bishops’ commitment to justice as essential to the Church’s mission.”
The president will stay in Rome through the weekend to participate in the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Rome where top world leaders will convene on the global economy. Most of the group will then travel to Scotland for COP26 to solidify the Paris Agreement and U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Reentering the Paris Agreement was one of Biden’s first executive actions after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2017.
The Vatican will be represented by Cardinal Parolin at the COP26 next week and is expected to support efforts to avert a climate disaster. The summit’s goals are to secure global net zero emissions by mid-century, protect natural habitats and communities affected by climate change, and mobilize the financial resources of wealthy countries to make this mission actionable.
“We have inherited a garden: we must not leave a desert to our children,” said a news release signed by Pope Franics, religious leaders, and scientists during a meeting in the Vatican ahead of COP26.
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.