A visibly moved President Joe Biden on Sunday took the opportunity to reflect on his close relationship with Pope Francis, praising the Catholic leader as “someone who’s provided a great solace for my family when my son died.”
“This is a man who has a great empathy. He is a man who understands that part of his Christianity is to reach out and to forgive,” Biden told reporters. “And so, I just find my relationship with him one that I personally take great solace in. He is a really, truly genuine decent man.”
The President and Pope held 90 minutes of talks Friday in a session that blended the official and personal sides of the most devout US leader in decades. Afterward, Biden said Francis had told him he was pleased he was a “good Catholic,” and that he should continue receiving communion, despite opposition from some conservative American bishops over his support for abortion. The meeting stretched twice as long as the one Biden held with Pope John Paul II as a young senator. While the White House said afterward that topics like climate change and Covid-19 arose, Biden told reporters he discussed “a lot of personal things” with the pontiff.
Biden did not directly respond to the question from a reporter that sparked his reflection on the pontiff, which was centered on the move by conservative bishops this summer to form a plan that would deny the President communion over his support for abortion. The President brushed off that topic, instead recounting a visit the Pope made to the US in 2015 shortly after the death of Beau Biden, the then-vice president’s son.
“And he came in and he talked to my family for a considerable amount of time – 10, 15 minutes about my son, Beau,” Biden recalled. “And he didn’t just generically talk about him, he knew about him. He knew what he did, he knew who he was, he knew where he went to school. He knew what – he knew what a man he was, and it had such a cathartic impact on his children and my wife in our family.”
The two men displayed an easy familiarity on Friday during their meeting. In extraordinary footage from inside, a talkative Biden engaged in a warm chat with Francis as they exchanged gifts and introduced each others’ delegations. At one point, Biden presented Francis a special coin with a deep personal significance: it bore the insignia of the 261st Signal Brigade, the Delaware National Guard unit in which his late son served as a captain.
“I know my son would want me to give it to you,” Biden said. He explained the coins are given to “warriors and leaders,” and called Francis “the most significant warrior for peace I’ve ever met.”
When Biden was elected, he said, the Pope called him “to tell me how much he appreciated the fact that I would focus on the poor and focus on the needs of people are in trouble,” adding the Jesuit “is everything I learned about Catholicism, from the time I was a kid going from grade school through high school.”
The President also acknowledged he was reluctant to divulge too much about his relationship with the pope, telling reporters, “I’m not gonna lie, this is just personal.”
“I don’t want to talk more about it, because so much of it is personal,” he later added.
CNN’s Meagan Vazquez and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.