Pope Meets With Biden and Abbas

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI met with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden in an unannounced visit June 3.

Biden, the first Catholic vice president in U.S. history, met with the pope in what was termed “a personal and private visit,” according to a U.S. official.

In an unusual move, the Vatican did not announce or comment on the papal audience, which, sources explained, was because it was not an official visit.

However, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, ran a headline and one-sentence summary reporting the pope’s audience with Biden, Biden’s wife, Jill, and entourage.

The vice president and leaders from about 80 other countries were in Rome to take part in Italy’s June 2 celebration of its 150th anniversary as a unified nation.

Biden, who supports keeping abortion legal, has said he accepts church teaching that life begins at conception, but that he does not want to impose his beliefs in the public policy arena.

Pope Benedict, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, outlined in a 2004 memo to U.S. bishops principles under which bishops or other ministers may deny Communion to Catholic politicians who consistently promote legal abortion. As part of a process of pastoral guidance and correction, a minister could extend a warning against taking Communion, and in the case of “obstinate persistence” by the politician, the minister “must refuse to distribute” Communion, the memo said.

Before Biden’s papal audience, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held talks with Pope Benedict as well as with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister.

The Vatican said the talks were “cordial” and focused on “the troubled situation in the Holy Land,” according to a written Vatican statement released after the meeting.

Particular emphasis was put “on the urgent need to find a just and lasting solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, one capable of ensuring respect for the rights of all and, therefore, the attainment of the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations for an independent state,” the Vatican statement said.

Soon both Israel and the Palestinian nation will have to “live in security, at peace with their neighbors and within internationally recognized borders,” it said.

Peace will come to the region with the help of the world community and by upholding “a spirit of cooperation and openness to reconciliation,” it said.

The talks also focused on the situation of Christians in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East, saying Christians make an “irreplaceable contribution” to society.

The two leaders also said they hoped that recently resumed talks between the Vatican and the Palestinian Liberation Organization would “proceed fruitfully toward the elaboration of a comprehensive agreement” between the two parties.

The diplomatic talks, which resumed at the end of 2010, aim to elaborate ways to implement the “Basic Agreement” between the Vatican and the PLO. The agreement was signed in 2000 spelling out principles for guaranteeing church rights and religious freedom in territories administered by the Palestinian Authority.

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