Vatican Calling: Pope Congratulates Joe Biden on Election

by Will Weissert and David Crary

Associated Press

Saturday November 14, 2020

In this Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 file photo, Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington
In this Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 file photo, Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington  (Source:Associated Press)

It's not exactly divine intervention, but even the pope considers the U.S. presidential race over.

President-elect Joe Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, spoke to Pope Francis on Thursday, despite President Donald Trump refusing to concede. Trump claims — without evidence — that the election was stolen from him through massive but unspecified acts of fraud.

Biden's transition team said in a statement that the president-elect thanked Francis for "extending blessings and congratulations and noted his appreciation." He also saluted the pontiff's "leadership in promoting peace, reconciliation, and the common bonds of humanity around the world."

Biden said he hopes to work with Francis on issues such as climate change, poverty and immigration.

News of the call came even as some Catholic bishops in the U.S. decline to acknowledge Biden's victory and argue that the faithful should not back him because of his support for abortion rights.

On Tuesday, for example, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, tweeted that Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris support "the slaughter of innocents" at any point during pregnancy.

Biden has said he accepts church doctrine about abortion on a personal level, but does not want to impose that belief on everyone.

Biden has had several phone calls this week with foreign leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They have congratulated him on winning and consider the election settled.

Having the pope on board, too, likely has special significance for Biden.

He is just the second Catholic to be elected president in U.S. history, and the first since John F. Kennedy. Biden speaks frequently and openly about the importance of faith in his life and attends Mass near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, nearly every week.

No matter their faith, American politicians are often eager to meet with the pope when traveling near Rome, though Francis declined to meet with Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in September, citing rules against such sit-downs during election periods. Francis last visited the U.S. in 2015.

Known for advocating for openness on issues like gay rights, the environment and religious tolerance, Francis has been embraced by some liberals as furthering their causes.

In its statement, the Biden transition team said the president-elect told the pontiff he would like to work together to further "a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all humankind on issues such as caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants."

The Vatican confirmed the call but offered no comment about the content. In confirming the call, the Vatican's in-house media portal quoted a statement by the head of the U.S. bishops conference, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, in congratulating Biden.

"The American people have spoken in this election. Now is the time for our leaders to come together in a spirit of national unity and to commit themselves to dialogue and compromise for the common good," Vatican News quoted Gomez as saying.

The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See is Callista Gingrich, whose husband, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has been among the vocal supporters of Trump as he refuses acknowledge Biden's victory. Callista Gingrich tweeted a selfie of the couple at Trump's north Virginia golf club on the day Biden was declared the winner while Trump golfed.

In the election, 50% of Catholic voters backed Trump and 49% favored Biden, according to VoteCast, a survey of more than 110,000 voters nationwide conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

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Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

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