The Vatican, in a surprising move, abruptly cancelled on Thursday the planned live broadcast of President Joe Biden and Pope Francis' in its latest restriction to media coverage of the Holy See. Biden and Pope Francis are scheduled to meet on Friday. The sudden decision has sparked complaints from White House- and Vatican-accredited journalists.
The Vatican didn't given any explanation behind the decision to trim Biden visit. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised plan reflected the "normal procedure" established during the coronavirus pandemic for all visiting heads of state or government.
Coverage Cut Short
The decision will now trim the broadcast to cover just the arrival of Biden's motorcade in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where a Vatican monsignor will greet him. Media won't be allowed beyond that. So now, any live coverage of the President actually greeting Francis in the palace Throne Room, as well as the live footage of the two men sitting down to begin their private talks in Francis' library, has been cancelled.
Instead, Vatican will record the entire event for its private channel and provide some edited footage to the accredited media. That protocol also means the extension of an 18-month ban on any independent media being in the room for the beginning and end of the audience, as would normally be the case for a visiting head of state.
Interestingly, Vatican had earlier announced fuller coverage of the meeting but decided to cut it short only on the eve of Biden's visit. No explanation for this was also provided by Bruni.
The Vatican has provided live television coverage for the visits of all major heads of state over the years. Hence it was the same for Biden. In fact a full coverage will also be given to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is also in Rome for a Group of 20 meeting this weekend.
Audiences were expecting live broadcasts particularly because the Vatican hasn't allowed independent photographers and journalists into papal audiences since the start of the pandemic. Biden, the second Catholic US president, has earlier met Pope Francis on three occasions. However, this will be the first time he will be meeting the Pope as president.
One major reason behind the decision to not allow full coverage of the event may be because of Biden's recent stance toward abortion. The audience was being closely monitored since US bishops are due to meet in the coming weeks for their annual fall convention, wherein one of the major agenda items inspired by conservatives who contend that Biden's support for abortion rights should disqualify him from receiving Communion.
Though any document that emerges from the bishops' conference is not expected to mention Biden by name, it's possible there could be a clear message of rebuke. Francis has strongly upheld the church's opposition to abortion, calling it "murder."