Friday, June 03, 2011

"Strettamente Privata": Benedict Meets Biden... and Silence Abounds

SVILUPPO (Noon ET): With apologies for the pixellation, a photo of the PP.-VP encounter has emerged on the back page of tomorrow's edition of L'Osservatore Romano, which was published within the last hour.

The meeting again going unnoted alongside the pontiff's other audience of the day on the traditional spot of the Vatican daily's front page, a caption to the small photo said that "On the morning of Friday 3 June, the His Holiness Benedict XVI received Mr Joseph Robinette Biden Jr, Vice-President of the United States, with his wife [Dr Jill Biden] and entourage."

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In what Italian reports have described as a "strictly private" encounter, this morning the Pope received Vice-President Joe Biden, who's in Rome representing the US at celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification.

Despite being the first Catholic to hold one of the country's top two posts in a half-century, in an ostensible reflection of the VP's status as the highest-ranking American Catholic public official ever to support legalized abortion, nothing official has emerged from the meeting: no photos, nor -- as opposed to an encore of the memorable 2009 release that chided the then Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, for her pro-choice stance as she met with the pontiff -- any statement from the Holy See. Unusually for any papal audience, the encounter wasn't even mentioned in Benedict XVI's daily list of visitors issued in the Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office.

Having been publicly chastised by the USCCB for comments he made on the issue on Meet the Press during the 2008 campaign, a handful of the nation's bishops have publicly urged the Scranton-born Delawarean to refrain from receiving the Eucharist. In his primary places of residence, however, neither Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington nor Bishop Fran Malooly of Wilmington have echoed the request.

Views on abortion aside, Biden's affinity for the faith is well-known. Among other things, the Vice was spotted thumbing his Rosary while watching the May operation that succeeded in killing the Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the vicar-general of his home diocese was one of his guests at the formal Inauguration Day lunch given by Congress in the Capitol's Statuary Hall, and on a working visit to Russia that happened to coincide with last Ash Wednesday, Biden's office recruited a local Jesuit priest to say Mass and distribute ashes for the VP and 10 of his staff.

While the Stateside #2's meeting was kept under wraps, by contrast, the full public reception was accorded earlier today to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who met individually with the Pope and the Cardinal-Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone SDB. Earlier in the week, the same treatment was had for Australia's head of state, Governor-General Quentin Bryce -- a Catholic -- who paid a courtesy visit to Benedict following Wednesday's General Audience.

With heavy fanfare -- and in an unusual afternoon time-slot for diplomatic guests -- President Obama's lone meeting with the pontiff came in July 2009, less than six months after he took office.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano