Biden receives Communion in Rome amid debate in US

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ROME  — President Joe Biden received Communion at St. Patrick’s Church during Saturday Vigil Mass, a day after saying Pope Francis told him he should continue to partake in the sacrament, despite the opposition of some conservatives in the U.S. upset with his position on abortion.

The Bidens visited the English-speaking church that is the main place of worship for the American Catholic community in Rome and located near the U.S. Embassy. The president stopped in between events at the Group of 20 world leaders’ summit taking place in the city this weekend.

While Biden regularly receives Communion in his home dioceses in Washington and Delaware, it was significant that he also received Communion in Rome. The pope technically is the bishop of Rome, and while he delegates that to his vicar, St. Patrick’s parish is technically in the pope’s archdiocese. As such, Biden received Communion in the pope’s archdiocese.

About 30 people were at the Mass, and security guards ringed the aisles. The Bidens sat in the last row that had been roped off as “reserved.”

Mass was celebrated by the Rev. Joe Ciccone and two concelebrating priests. Biden waved to two women in the rows in front of him as he arrived with Jill by his side. No special announcement was made at the start of Mass.

The president put U.S. currency in the collection basket.

Before the collection was taken, a layman said from the altar that the parish welcomed all, including visitors, and noted that the parish receives no funding from the archdiocese of Rome or the Vatican.

In an interview after Mass, Ciccone said Biden’s abortion position and whether to administer Communion was not an issue for him or the parish.

“Communion is what brings us together in the Lord. None of us are pure and perfect. We struggle through life. We’re all saints and sinners,” Ciccone said.

“And when you’re a public figure you have to make certain decisions, especially in a democracy, on behalf of more than just your own personal feelings,” he added.

The president’s support for abortion rights has put him at odds with many U.S. bishops, some of whom have suggested he should be denied Communion. American bishops are due to hold their annual fall conference in mid-November, and will find themselves debating a possible rebuke of a U.S. president.

Biden said told reporters on Friday that abortion did not come up in his 75-minute meeting with Francis at the Vatican. “We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving Communion,” Biden said.

The Vatican spokesman declined to comment on Biden’s remarks about Communion, noting that the Vatican doesn’t comment on the pope’s private conversations beyond what is written in the official communique, which made no mention of the issue.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement after the Vatican meeting that didn’t address Biden’s remark about Communion. Instead, the statement suggested that the president would not be singled out in any document emerging from the bishops’ meeting next month.

The document “is intended to speak to the beauty of meeting Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and is addressed to all Catholics,” the statement said.

Francis has stressed that he will not reject political leaders who support abortion rights, though Catholic policy allows individual bishops to choose whether to prevent people from taking Communion.