Antony Blinken Won't Say if He Discussed Communion for Catholic Politicians With Pope

Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to say if he discussed Communion for Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, such as President Joe Biden, with the pope on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

Conservative U.S. bishops have been seeking a clear directive on allowing Communion for Catholic politicians who support a woman's right to abortion. Vatican teachings forbid abortions and consider them a grave sin.

"One of the luxuries of my job is that I don't do domestic politics," Blinken said when asked about the issue. He described his talk with the pope as "extremely warm and very wide-ranging."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Antony Blinken Visits the Sistine Chapel
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, visits the Sala Regia and the Sistine Chapel Monday in Vatican City. Vatican Pool - Corbis/Getty Images

The Vatican said the two spoke for about 40 minutes, a long time considering that Blinken isn't the top Biden administration leader.

The closed-door meeting in the Apostolic Palace "played out in a cordial atmosphere," a Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said. The meeting, "was, for the pope the occasion to recall his 2015 visit and to express his affection and his attention to the people of the United States of America."

Bruni was referring to the pontiff's U.S. pilgrimage, which included a meeting at the White House with then-President Barack Obama. In recent years, the U.S. church hierarchy has been increasingly more polarized about U.S. politics and politicians.

Earlier this month, the U.S. churchmen decided to go ahead and craft a document about Communion. Only a month earlier, Francis' top official on doctrinal orthodoxy had urged the bishops to think the matter through thoroughly and aim to keep divisions to the minimum.

Francis himself hasn't weighed in publicly on the latest squabble in the long-running wrangling over the Communion issue within the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

Blinken had high praise for Francis and the opportunity to be the highest level official in the fledgling Biden administration to have a sit-down session with the pontiff.

"I was very gratified by the meeting and gratified as well by the strong leadership of His Holiness on the pandemic, on climate change, his leadership on the basic proposition that we have to stand for human dignity in whatever we do," Blinken said.

Blinken's spokesman, Ned Price, said the secretary had assured the pontiff about "the United States' commitment to working closely with the Holy See to address global challenges and the needs of the world's least fortunate and most vulnerable, including refugees and migrants."

That would generally synch with Francis' overarching agenda of putting those living on life's margin at the center of attention.

Blinken also thanked Francis for "long-standing leadership" on the need to tackle climate change. Early in his papacy, Francis issued an encyclical, or formal teaching document, stressing the need to treasure and protect the environment.

Last year, when Blinken's predecessor, Mike Pompeo, came to the Vatican, he wasn't granted any private time with Francis. At the time, Vatican officials explained that the Holy See didn't want to give any impression of favoritism only weeks before the U.S. presidential election.

Pompeo had blasted the Vatican for what he said was a lessening of its moral authority by signing an accord with Beijing over the nominations of Chinese bishops. Pompeo had insisted that the Holy See take a tougher stand against Chinese restrictions on religious freedom.

Biden, for his part, has criticized China for forced labor practices. Blinken's spokesperson said the secretary and Francis discussed China as well as humanitarian crises in Lebanon, Syria, the Tigray region of Ethiopia and Venezuela. The latter nation's economic and social plight has often drawn attention from Francis, who is a South American native.

Human rights and religious freedom in China were also discussed in Blinken's separate talks with the Holy See's No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, and with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, its foreign minister.

Blinken stressed U.S. support for a return to democracy in Venezuela and "our desire to help the Venezuelan people rebuild their country," Price said.

At the Vatican, Blinken on Monday was also given a guided, private tour of the Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling frescoed by Michelangelo and other Renaissance masterpieces. Price tweeted that he and Blinken toured the "breathtaking Sistine Chapel."

Blinken visited Rome before flying to southern Italy for Tuesday's Group of 20 meeting of foreign ministers, which is focused on improving collaboration among nations on climate change, health issues and development.

Antony Blinken Shakes Hands With Pope Francis
Pope Francis shakes hands with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Vatican on Monday. Vatican Media/Associated Press