Biden spoke to “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, who is also Catholic, about a moment when Francis set aside his “pontiff” hat to take on the role of pastor for Biden and his family.
He said that during Francis’ 2015 visit to the U.S., which took place months after Biden’s son Beau Biden died of brain cancer, the pope carved out time to speak with the then-vice president and 15 members of his extended family.
“The pope’s been incredibly generous to our family,” Biden told Colbert in a clip published Friday.
“He asked to meet with the family at the hangar in the airport as he was leaving” in Philadelphia, Biden said. “He didn’t just speak about Beau, he spoke in detail about Beau, about who he was and about family values and about forgiveness and decency.”
“I am a great admirer of His Holiness. I really am,” Biden added.
Biden has received fierce backlash from some of his fellow Catholics for his political views, especially his support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Last year, as Biden campaigned in South Carolina, a priest denied him Holy Communion at a church.
“It creates confusion with the faithful about what the church actually teaches on these questions,” Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said last month.
Progressive Catholics are hoping that Biden’s time at the White House will showcase a different side of their religion ― one that focuses on caring for the poor, immigrants and the environment. Francis himself has cautioned against Catholics becoming “obsessed” with issues such as abortion, gay marriage and contraception, urging his flock to focus on serving the poor and oppressed.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., whom Francis recently elevated to cardinal, has signaled he won’t deny communion to Biden. The president-elect is a regular church-goer.
The first Catholic U.S. president, John. F. Kennedy, had to contend with prejudice against his religion during his 1960 presidential campaign, particularly the notion that Catholics couldn’t be trusted as loyal American citizens because they owed fealty to the pope. Even after his election, Kennedy had to carefully navigate his relationship with then-Pope Paul VI.
Sixty years later, Catholics have attained positions of political power in Congress, as state governors, and on the Supreme Court (six of the nine justices are practicing Catholics).