On Friday, President Joe Biden visited with the Pope. As America’s second Catholic president, the fact that Biden was able to drop in at the Vatican for a cordial chat without it being the subject of heavy media speculation based on anti-Catholic sentiment is actually a very big deal, and a big change from when then-President John F. Kennedy visited Rome in 1963. Conservative Catholics in the U.S. aren’t likely to be happy that Pope Francis told the president that he is a “good Catholic” who should continue to receive communion. But then, the Ross Douthat and Cardinal Burke contingent have long decided that they are more Catholic than the Pope, so those statements are unlikely to dim their exclusionary hate. Everyone else can just lean back and enjoy Biden’s smile after a meeting that clearly pleased both men, and ended with that most Biden of statements, “God love ya.”
CNN reports that President Biden was “excited” about the meeting and spent much of the 90-minute visit speaking on personal topics. Biden was relaxed and happy enough to try out the, “Hi, I’m Jill’s husband” line on some of the Vatican officials he greeted before going inside. He appeared to leave the meeting energized and enthusiastic.
But the significance goes beyond Biden’s attitude. The fact that Biden left the Vatican with the reassurance that someone can both support a woman’s right to choose and be a Catholic in good standing is a win. A real win. One that can have genuine impact on future elections and one that should help quiet concerns for millions of Catholics in America and the world.
Which is good, because Biden needs that win. After the meeting with Francis, Biden is slated to meet with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron. Both of those meetings are prelude to a G20 meeting that’s expected to be extremely challenging, followed immediately by a climate summit that’s going to demand more than just waving a hand toward good ideas.
The focus in the U.S. may remain on beating out the last details of what survives from Biden’s Build Back Better plan, but this week is a reminder that the planet doesn’t actually end where the Potomac empties into Chesapeake Bay. There’s a world out there, and 100% of it is in trouble.
The last time the U.S. participated in a G20 meeting was spent with Trump attempting to persuade foreign leaders to abandon the Paris climate agreement. Thankfully, Trump was unsuccessful.
Three senior officials told Politico reporters that Trump had been pressuring Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Turkey to withdraw their support for the G20’s commitment to the 2015 accord. It didn’t work. In fact, French President Emmanuel Macron gave notice early on that he would veto the final communiqué if it weakened the G20’s support for the accord.
This followed the previous G20 meeting in which Trump “pressed fast forward on the decline of the United States” as part of a war on western democracy, creating the “biggest threat to the values of the west.”
In both meetings, Trump ended up as an isolated figure, railing against allies, defending authoritarian regimes, screaming that the climate crisis is a hoax, and sneering at the knowledge and experience of global leaders.
Against that background, President Biden has a monumental task. He not only has to work through critical issues from the climate to the pandemic, but to restore trust of other nations that America can take a responsible role in world leadership. That doesn’t mean that Biden is likely to put America back at the prow of the international ship of state—Trump sank that role, perhaps for good—but he has to at least drag the U.S. back from the position of international pariah following four years of committed anti-democratic, anti-science, anti-environmental chaos.
The New York Times reports that as he was coming out of his meeting with Pope Francis, Biden could not resist telling one of the “folksy” stories that he unspools so often; this one about Black baseball player Satchel Paige.
“Usually, pitchers lose their arms when they’re 35,” said Biden. “He pitched a win on his 47th birthday. The press walked into the locker room and said—his name was Satchel Paige—they came in and said, ‘Satch, no one’s ever pitched a win at age 47. How do you feel about pitching a win on your birthday?’ He looked at them and said, ‘Boys, that’s not how I look at age. I look at it this way: How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?’”
Biden then said he felt 60. Let’s hope that’s young enough for him to still pitch a winning game at the G20 and at the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.