USA and Vatican try to improve their relations

On the occasion of the trip to Rome for the G20, American President Joe Biden also includes a visit to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis; the meeting is very relevant because it sees the confrontation between the two major world Catholic leaders. Biden is on his first visit, as US president, to the Vatican, but the meeting with the pontiff is not new as it was preceded by two visits in the role of vice president, during his stay at Obama’s White House. Biden is the second US Catholic president, after Kennedy and arrives in the Vatican after Trump’s presidency, which had been characterized by profound conflicts with Bergoglio from an ideological and political point of view on issues considered fundamental by the Pope, such as respect for human rights, the environment. and treatment of immigrants. These topics will be at the very center of the official agenda of the meeting, which will also deal with the pandemic and aid for the poorest. There is also another relevance, certainly not secondary, of this meeting: the current pontificate does not have good relations with most of the American cardinals and bishops, who maintain traditionalist positions on various topics of a social nature and who have too often found aligned with Trump’s ultraconservative positions. This fracture has generated profound contrasts to the point of imagining possible schisms within the Catholic Church. The failure of Trump’s re-election meant for Pope Francis, as well as the elimination from the political scene of a tenacious opponent, also of the greatest ally for the ultra-conservative American clergy, who find themselves without their own greater political protection; it is possible that the Pope will seek decisive support on this issue from the American President, who will have to support this position with policies, if not exactly aligned with the wishes of the Vatican, at least more incisive on the themes of the fight against poverty, the environment and the treatment of immigrants. There is no doubt about Biden’s religious sincerity: the US president is a practicing Catholic and recognizes himself in the reformist policy of the Second Vatican Council, however some of his ideas also place him at an enormous distance from Bergoglio, especially for his opinion favorable to abortion. There may be greater opportunities for rapprochement on environmental issues if Biden approaches the contents of the encyclical on the environment “Laudato Be” not too favorably received in the United States; moreover, the environmental issue is central to Biden’s trip to Europe, because after the G20 in Italy, and after the visit to the Vatican, the American president will go to Glasgow for the summit on climate change. A position closer to that of the Pope on environmental issues officially sanctioned at a world summit, could testify to an eloquent closeness between the two leaders, with the expectation of new and more advanced US positions on climate change and respect for environment, also given the consequences that global warming has caused all over the world, where more and more natural disasters are recorded. Despite these possible meeting points, the differences between Biden and the Pope remain very strong on the subject of welcoming immigrants: the recent events on the American border and the treatment reserved for Haitians who tried to enter the United States have shown that the lack of a substantial difference with Trump’s action marked by the continuous rejection of refugees, moreover, Bergoglio’s pontificate has always been centered on the defense of the weakest and the abandonment of Afghanistan, which has thrown the country into chaos and brought it back of years, wanted by Biden himself, was welcomed in a very displeased way by the Pope. The impression is that between the two, Biden is in need of moral support and political closeness with the Pontiff, in order to spend it at home, where polls say that the president’s approval is at an all-time low. Certainly Bergoglio also needs an important ally in the game he is playing in the US against the conservative clergy, but the image in Biden’s homeland needs to rediscover an appreciation that is continuing to suffer an erosion of consensus and to stop it the support of the Pope is considered fundamental.