American Civic Life

A Look Back at the History of US Presidential Visits to the Vatican

October 27, 2021

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — On Friday, Oct. 29, Pope Francis is set to hold a highly anticipated private audience with President Joe Biden at the Vatican. It will be the first in-person meeting between the pontiff and the Catholic head of state since Biden’s election.

Biden is the 14 U.S. president to meet a pontiff at the Vatican, and the Eternal City is bubbling with speculation over what the two are likely to discuss. The meeting is expected to be cordial, focusing on what the two have in common, but historically the relationship between the Vatican and the Oval Office has often been tense — even occasionally hostile.

From public reprimands to diplomatic faux pas, Religion News Service takes a look back at the history of meetings between popes and U.S. presidents.

President John F. Kennedy meets with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in July 1963. Photo courtesy of JFK Library

President John F. Kennedy meets with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in July 1963. Photo courtesy of JFK Library

President Richard Nixon meets with Pope Paul VI during a visit to the Vatican, Sept. 28, 1970. Photo courtesy of White House Photo Office Collection/Creative Commons

President Richard Nixon meets with Pope Paul VI during a visit to the Vatican, Sept. 28, 1970. Photo courtesy of White House Photo Office Collection/Creative Commons

President Jimmy Carter greets Pope John Paul II, the first pope to visit the White House, in 1979. Photo courtesy of National Archives, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

President Jimmy Carter greets Pope John Paul II, the first pope to visit the White House, in 1979. Photo courtesy of National Archives, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan meeting with Pope John Paul II at The Papal Library Vatican Pontifical Palace during a visit to the Vatican in 1982. Official White House photo/Creative Commons

President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan meeting with Pope John Paul II at The Papal Library Vatican Pontifical Palace during a visit to the Vatican in 1982. Official White House photo/Creative Commons

Pope Francis poses with U.S. President Donald Trump, his wife Melania, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (2nd L) during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis poses with U.S. President Donald Trump, his wife Melania, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (2nd L) during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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