Pope Francis on Monday met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the pontiff’s first face-to-face interaction with the new administration of President Joe Biden, who has been challenged by US bishops.
Blinken, on a tour of Europe, had a private audience with the Argentine pope after meeting with senior Vatican officials including Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who handles foreign relations.
Wearing a dark suit, Blinken was escorted through the Sistine Chapel as a guide gave him a description of each fresco, which he stopped to admire.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the 40-minute meeting with the pope took place in a “friendly atmosphere”, adding that the pontiff recalled his 2015 trip to the United States and expressed “his affection and attention to the people of the United States”.
The trip by Blinken, a secular Jew, comes amid division within the Catholic Church in the United States over the positions of Biden, a devout Catholic who regularly attends Mass.
Biden says he personally opposes abortion but, like most of his Democratic Party, supports the right to choose abortion guaranteed in a 1973 Supreme Court decision that remains deeply divisive in US politics.
Earlier this month US bishops agreed to draft a statement that could potentially deny the holy communion — one of the most sacred rituals in the church — to any US leader who supports abortion rights.
The pope has previously spoken by telephone with Biden and shares some of the priorities of the new administration, including stepping up the fight against climate change and showing more compassion to refugees.
Francis, both the first Jesuit pope and the first pontiff from the Americas, had an uneven relationship with Donald Trump despite the previous president’s opposition to abortion.
He criticised Trump’s push to seal off Mexico with a wall. He declined last year to meet Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, concerned about being seen as showing support close to an election, although he met earlier with Pompeo.