Pope Francis has said he won't address any domestic political issues during his visit to the U.S., but there's a good chance he may bestow his blessing on Vice President Joe Biden, and by inference, encourage him to run for president.
That is, if Biden follows the lead of Vice President Walter Mondale when Pope John Paul II visited Washington 36 years ago.
John Paul was wrapping up a six-city visit to the U.S. in 1979 after saying Mass on the National Mall and meeting President Carter at the White House. He was the first pope to visit the White House and I was working for Mondale at the time and won major points with my Irish Catholic wife and her parents by getting them invited to meet him at a White House reception.
Anyway, like Francis, he was staying at the Papal Embassy directly across Massachusetts Avenue from the vice president's residence, and the State Department and protocol officials had arranged for him to use the vice president's helicopter pad to fly to Andrews Air Force Base for his return flight to Rome.
As a kind of quid pro quo, the pope agreed to pay a brief farewell visit to the vice president to bless him and his family and the Filipino staff. I was with Mondale as he stood outside his residence waiting for the pope's arrival.
But when his motorcade passed by without turning into the driveway leading to the vice president's residence, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the American prelate who acted as a bodyguard for the pope, reassured a downcast Mondale that the driver had only missed the turn. Sure enough, he doubled back and the pope came into the house, met briefly with Mondale, and bestowed a papal blessing on all of us. I remember being impressed by John Paul's charismatic personality, which would make him the most popular pope until Francis came along.
Although the papal blessing didn't help Mondale when he and Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980, or Mondale when he suffered a landslide defeat by Reagan four years later, neither was Catholic. So maybe the Catholic Biden will benefit if he makes a deal with Francis to use his helicopter pad when he leaves for New York Thursday afternoon, and stops by to bless Biden and his family and staff.
And maybe Biden will claim that the pope helped him decide to run for president.
Footnote: History was not kind to Marcinkus. As president of the Vatican Bank and known as "God's banker," he became involved in one of the Vatican's biggest financial scandals when Italy's Banco Ambrosiano collapsed in 1982 after the disappearance of $1.3 billion. The Vatican bank was a major shareholder in Banco Ambrosiano, and the Italian government charged Marcinkus as an "accessory to fraudulent bankruptcy." He barely escaped being arrested when he fled to the safety of the Vatican two hours before police arrived.
The Cicero, Ill., native returned to the U.S. in 1990, protesting that he was innocent of any wrongdoing, but his reputation was tarnished and the Vatican bank had to pay $250 million to the Italian bank's creditors. Marcinkus did pastoral work in Chicago and Arizona, where he died in 2006.