President Joe Biden will meet with Pope Francis later this month for a discussion on how the US and the Vatican can work together on issues ranging from climate change to bettering treatment of the poor, the White House said on Thursday.
A statement from press secretary Jen Psaki indicated that the conversation would cover “efforts grounded in respect for fundamental human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor”.
The meeting will take place on 29 October, two days before the US is set to take part in the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. It will also occur as the leaders of the G20 are meeting in Rome.
The president and senior administration officials are hoping to showcase the Biden administration’s efforts to fight climate change at the Glasgow summit, and are ramping up pressure on Congress to pass his two infrastructure bills which include provisions aimed at addressing carbon emissions before the president heads abroad at the end of the month.
Pope Francis has called climate change a “global catastrophe”, noting its likelihood to have major effects on communities around the world and drive new mass migration as its effects become more pronounced.
“We need to ensure that the environment is cleaner, purer and that it is conserved. We must care for nature so that nature may care for us,” he said in April during an Earth Day address.
Along with provisions aimed at beginning to tackle climate change, the White House-supported reconciliation package contains language expanding and reinforcing America’s social safety net. Progressives, with the backing of the administration, are hoping to include expansions of Medicare to include vision, dental, and hearing benefits. The plan also aims to change eligibility requirements allowing low-income residents of states that refused to opt-in to a Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act to access a federal Medicaid plan.
Some of the plan’s proposals aimed at helping low-income Americans in particular are at risk due to resistance to the size of the reconciliation package from two conservative Democrats in the Senate: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have demanded large cuts to the bill.
While not mentioned by the White House’s statement, the issue of abortion could also come up during the President and first lady’s discussion with the Pope; the Catholic Church strictly opposes the procedure, which Mr Biden has supported as a protected medical practice as president.
Mr Biden is an active member of the Catholic Church and frequently attends Mass upon returning to his home in Wilmington, Dela. He has faced critcism from some conservative members of the church for his stance on abortion rights, which his administration has defended since the president took office in January.
That issue recently charged back into the attention of the media with the implementation of a ban on abortions after six weeks into the pregnancy in Texas as well as an effort by attorneys for the state of Mississippi to overturn Roe V. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case establishing abortion as a protected medical practice.
The Pope has called abortion “murder” but refused to take the same stance as some who claim that Mr Biden should cease receiving Communion until his policies align with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“I never denied communion to anyone. But I never knew that I had in front of me anyone such as you described, that is true,” the Pope said to reporters in September.