Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 20, 2021
Pope Francis greets U.S. Vice President Joe Biden after both spoke at a conference on adult stem cell research at the Vatican in this April 29, 2016, file photo. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

In a message of “cordial good wishes” to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. after his installation as the 46th president of the United States, Pope Francis assured him of his prayers “that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.”

He told the president that he prayed that “under your leadership, may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.”

“At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses,” the pope wrote, “I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.”

Furthermore, the pope said, “I ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good.”

“I ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States,” Pope Francis wrote.

He concluded by invoking God’s blessing on the president, his family and “the beloved American people.”

The Vatican released the text of the telegram at 6.15 p.m. Rome time (noon Eastern time) on Jan. 20, immediately after the swearing-in of Mr. Biden as only the second Catholic president in U.S. history and of Kamala Harris, the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president.

Pope Francis’ warm message contrasted with the public statement that had been prepared by Archbishop José Gomez in the name of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. While the bishops’ statement included much the pope would agree with, it nevertheless adopted a confrontational tone over the issue of abortion especially, as well as contraception, marriage and gender. The Vatican only learned of the U.S.C.C.B. message hours before it was due to be released, and a senior Vatican official told America that “it was reasonable to say” that it had intervened but did not confirm or deny the details first reported by The Pillar.

[Related: President of U.S. bishops prays God will grant Joe Biden ‘wisdom and courage’ to lead]

There was a negative reaction from Vatican officials contacted by America in Rome to the statement issued by Archbishop Gomez in the name of the U.S.C.C.B. “It is most unfortunate and is likely to create even greater divisions within the church in the United States,” a senior official, who did not wish to be named because of the position he holds at the Vatican, told America.

Pope Francis’ warm message contrasted with the public statement that had been prepared by Archbishop José Gomez in the name of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Sources told America that it is unclear what consultation was conducted within the U.S. church before the statement was issued. Indeed, America has learned that the Vatican was taken by surprise at the statement. It seems that there is no precedent in recent memory of the conference issuing such a statement on Inauguration Day.

It is normal practice for the pope to send a congratulatory note to the new president on the date of his inauguration. Pope Francis also sent a message of good wishes to President Trump on the day of his inauguration.

Pope Francis also spoke by phone with the president-elect soon after his November victory and sent an autographed copy of his book, Let Us Dream, to Mr. Biden. He asked Cardinal Wilton Gregory, when he was in Rome for the consistory, to take the book to the future president.

Pope Francis and Mr. Biden have met on a number of occasions, starting on March 19, 2013, when then Vice President Biden represented the United States at the ceremony inaugurating the pontificate of the first Latin American pope. They met again a number of times during Francis’ visit to the United States in September 2015 and when the vice president participated in an international event in the Vatican in 2016.

Full Text of Pope Francis’ Message

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden President of the United States of America
The White House
Washington, DC

On the occasion of your inauguration as the forty-sixth President of the United States of America, I extend cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.

Under your leadership, may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.

At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice. I likewise ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good.

With these sentiments, I willingly invoke upon you and your family and the beloved American people an abundance of blessings.

FRANCISCUS PP.

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