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The Pope and the President

I’ve been critical– on this page and via the Papal Posse at EWTN, among other venues – of many things Pope Francis has said and done. With a proper respect, I believe. But more than everything else – more than the indirect infidelities in Amoris Laetitia; the cringe-making chumminess with McCarrick, Zanchetta, Battista Ricca, and many other abusers; the harsh measures against the TLM; even the outrage of Pachamama – he’s done nothing more outrageous than telling Joe Biden – if the story’s true – that he’s a “good Catholic” and should “continue receiving Communion.”

Biden has demonstrated a very casual relationship with the truth over many years. And we may yet find out that something different was said behind closed doors. The Vatican was evidently nervous about this meeting, which is why it took the unusual step of not allowing any live filming. The Vatican press office has not denied Biden’s account and has only said that it was a private conversation. And that it doesn’t comment on private conversations.

This already is close to an outright lie. The president of the United States of America, claiming to be a Catholic, at a time when he is pushing the most extreme measures on abortion and the funding thereof, as well as other unnecessarily radical policies, is facing a rebuke, perhaps even condemnation, from the American bishops at their annual November meeting in Baltimore. Under the circumstances, a meeting with the pope in Rome is not a “private conversation.” It – like the earlier meeting with Nancy Pelosi – is essentially a public declaration.

The press office is noticeably maladroit in handling controversies like this one. During the Amazon Synod, for instance, press officials were repeatedly asked to clarify what the Pachamama was doing there. All they did was mumble that symbols have different uses in different cultures. Of course, but that was exactly the point at issue. Here you had a pagan fertility goddess being celebrated in a Christian context, when – as anyone who takes the Faith seriously knows – from Old Testament times on, Jews and Christians were warned sharply about idols. So why was a figurine from a polytheistic system so important to a synod of Catholic bishops?

The pope even apologized – to the Pachamama worshippers – when a young Austrian took things into his own hands and threw the idol in the Tiber River.

The Vatican press office has also been feckless when the pope has met with Eugenio Scalfari, the legendary editor of the Italian socialist newspaper La Repubblica. Scalfari has emerged from those meetings with notorious claims about the Eucharist, souls being annihilated rather than going to Hell, etc. It’s a further indication of papal recklessness that despite repeated problems of that kind, the meetings have gone on – usually followed by some weak communiqué claiming Scalfari’s accounts are not completely accurate.


We haven’t even got that much after the Biden visit. There’s some evidence that Biden is lying. He claims that abortion was not discussed. If true, that would reflect a remarkable dereliction of duty by a pope who has called procuring an abortion like hiring a hitman. But is that what happened? Why would the pope tell Biden that he’s a “good Catholic” and should “continue taking Communion” unless there was some doubt about those propositions?

The trouble with telling lies, especially big ones – at least for the liar – is that they invite scrutiny. As you look at this enormity – and realize no one on either side is likely to be more forthcoming – it’s clear that some shenanigans have taken place on at least one, and maybe both sides.

The biggest problem in all of this is that Francis even met with Biden at this precise moment. It not only undercut our American bishops – by a pope who otherwise has been seeking to devolve power away from Rome and talks incessantly now about “walking together” – i.e. synodality. Pope Francis has also sent a message, whether he knows it or not, that in America, where there is still a very live opposition to legal abortion, and where the Supreme Court may this year abrogate the Federal legalization of abortion, if you’re “good” on climate, illegal immigration, poverty programs, the “hitman” stuff doesn’t really count.

The pope and his close advisers know little about America. And it seems that what little they do know they do not much like. That hasn’t stopped them from weighing in recklessly on all sorts of things.

For example, anyone who takes the trouble to look into the most basic facts about a movement like Black Lives Matter will immediately discover that its founders openly assert their commitment to Marxism, intention to destroy the “patriarchal” family, etc., all things that would raise red flags for a pope who takes seriously what people say and believe. Instead, the superficial fact that BLM is trying to deal with racism earns it the praise of Pope Francis. When he spoke to the World Meeting of Popular Movements recently, he compared BLM to the Good Samaritan in the Gospel and called such groups “social poets.” He says he doesn’t watch television so maybe his advisers didn’t tell him about the burning and looting at the “mostly peaceful” BLM protests.

The editor of any publication these days knows in advance that anything you publish will result in a flurry of emotional reactions in the Inbox. Readers accuse you and all of your writers – who were chosen to present a variety of perspectives, some not your own – of all believing the same outrageously wrong thing. Or maybe the opposite wrong thing. The reactions are not always based on a close reading of the original text. Real engagement with the arguments does happen, but is rare.

Until this week, I’d never received so many outraged messages about something not immediately connected to this site – namely, President Biden’s self-reporting that the pope confirmed in private conversation that he was a “good Catholic.” I can see why many readers are furious. Because I find that I am too.


*Image: Who sups with the devil must use a long spoon by William Barclay and his “kervers” (carvers), c. 1480-83 [St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England]

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Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.