It’s not great news that Biden met with the Pope

The feed that was supposed to show the two beginning discussions was mysteriously cut yesterday, and the Vatican gave no explanation

Jennifer Stavros
Friday 29 October 2021 15:30
<p>US President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Pope Francis as they meet at the Vatican, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.</p>

US President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Pope Francis as they meet at the Vatican, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.

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Two of the most powerful world leaders are meeting at the Vatican today: US President Joe Biden and Pope Francis. The pair will discuss several key elements facing our world: poverty, abortion, women’s rights, and climate change are all reportedly on the agenda. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Both Pope Francis and President Biden have spoken about their opposition to abortion publicly during their careers — though both of them have elected not to bring those views into politics. Despite “pro-life” stances during his early career, the president has made clear that he believes Roe v Wade to be a centerpiece of American policy. For his part, the Pope has stated that his opinions on the matter are not to be interpreted as political — but it’s difficult to argue that you’re apolitical when you’re meeting with the leader of the free world.

The fact that these important discussions are not being televised is frustrating to me, and should be to everyone. Yesterday, the Vatican cancelled a planned live broadcast with no explanation, and the country’s press office reported that there would no longer be any footage even of Biden and Pope Francis sitting down together to begin talks; instead, we would only see the president arriving outside the Apostolic Palace. Edited footage would then be made available to certain media outlets, the press office added. That’s not something any American or indeed world citizen should find comfortable or acceptable, whether Catholic or not. As an American who was raised Catholic, I certainly don’t believe it’s justifiable.

The church and our government continue to operate in secrecy even when there’s no clear explanation for why. But we need and deserve discussions between our elected president and a religious leader to be conducted transparently, especially when women’s rights are on the line domestically.

Pope Francis’s home country of Argentina made a woman’s right to abortion legal last year, despite Francis’ opposition to it. Does the Pope have a desire to try to veer the United States from the same fate? Will President Biden be able to show with action how he may be able to put his own faith aside for the sake of his duties in a country that overwhelmingly supports a woman’s right to choose, no matter what some hardline Republican officials might say? And will the Vatican’s head of state also seek to influence other policies in the US while he has Biden’s ear? We can hardly imagine that he doesn’t have an advantage in that area, considering his job title and Biden’s lifelong commitment to Catholicism.

As a Catholic-turned-atheist, I have sat for hours mulling about the various elements that will be discussed today. There is so much that needs to be said. There are so many feelings that need to be given their deserved space. And I wouldn’t want to criticize Biden’s personal spirituality — but I do question the utility of a religion that marginalizes women, cuts them out from full participation, and puts a small number of men in charge of a large number of global decisions. Many Americans, like me, have chosen to reject organized religion because it no longer speaks to who we are or the freedoms we hold dear. Others would like to drag us back to the days when evangelical Christianity dictated a large amount of what we did, socially and politically.

We who have left the faith still have much in common with those who retain it. We are all, in some way, beholden to higher powers — whether earthly or heavenly. Perhaps it’s time to unpack whether our president should be discussing the future of our country with a man whose own beliefs are ideologically patriarchal, whose chosen state is decidedly undemocratic, and whose beliefs are stuck in the first century. At the very least, we might question whether we have a right to hear what that man says to the other old white man deciding so many women’s fates.

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