Bill O’Reilly meets Pope Francis. How did that happen?

Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly, right, shakes hands with Pope Francis during the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on April 19, 2017. Photo courtesy of Osservatore Romano/Handout via ReutersFox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly, right, shakes hands with Pope Francis during the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on April 19, 2017. Photo courtesy of Osservatore Romano/Handout via Reuters

It’s the handshake that launched a thousand (or more) tweets. The timing of Bill O’Reilly’s encounter yesterday with Pope Francis could not have been scripted any better, coming just hours before the Fox News put an end its top-rated "The Factor," which Mr. O'Reilly has hosted in various forms since 1996. Though the show's ratings remain high, advertisers had been in general flight as court cases and allegations of sexual harassment related to the controversial TV host continued to surface.

But Mr. O’Reilly’s encounter with Pope Francis was the result of standard operating procedures, according to Joe Zwilling, the spokesperson for the Archdiocese of New York. He explained in an e-mail: “Cardinal Dolan regularly tries to assist people from the archdiocese who are visiting Rome. In this case, he wrote on behalf of Mr. O’Reilly and his sons back in February requesting tickets. In all cases, the final decision on such requests rests with the Vatican.”


According to Mr. Zwilling, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan “regularly attempts to assist people, not just for tickets to the audience, but for someone looking to visit the scavi, or the Vatican museums, for instance.”

He added, “I only know about New York, but I would not be surprised if most bishops don’t do this. In fact, I would be surprised if they don’t.” He said the letter from Cardinal Dolan to Rome was sent in February, months before the latest controversy regarding Mr. Reilly’s history of sexual harassment heated up and merely “indicated the dates that Mr. O’Reilly and his family would be in Rome.”

Mr. O'Reilly, a Catholic, who last year challenged the pope’s views on immigration and promised to convince him of the need for reform, shook hands briefly with the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics at the Vatican.

But it’s unclear if Francis knew who Mr. O’Reilly was, and they appeared to exchange no conversation as Mr. O'Reilly joined VIPs in a suit and tie to greet the 80-year-old pontiff in the spring sunshine.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Fox and Mr. O'Reilly paid five women, including former staffers and guests on his program, a total of $13 million to settle harassment claims.

Mr. O'Reilly's picture was taken in the VIP line by a photographer from the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. He has been on vacation in Italy.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists gather in St. Peter’s Square for the papal audience, which is open to the public every Wednesday. 

Mr. O’Reilly’s access did not appear to come with any assistance from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, and the head of the Vatican press office, Greg Burke, a former Fox correspondent, told RNS he did “not facilitate” Mr. O’Reilly’s visit.

The request is likely to have been cleared by the prefect of the papal household, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, former personal secretary and friend of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The pope has made compassion for migrants a hallmark of his papacy, and in a broadcast aired last year Mr. O’Reilly said he personally wanted to convince Francis that millions of Americans had been harmed by the immigration system.

The pope angered then-candidate Donald Trump during last year's presidential campaign when he appeared to question Trump's desire to build a border wall with Mexico.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” the pope said after a visit to Mexico. “This is not in the Gospel.”

In his message to the faithful on Wednesday, the pope referred to the resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter, saying: "Even though we are all sinners, we too can go to the tomb, see the stone rolled away and realize that God has an unexpected future for each one of us."

During the pope’s 2015 visit to the United States, he met Kim Davis, a Kentucky clerk who became a conservative hero for refusing to sign same-sex marriage certificates, though it was not clear he knew who she was.

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ed gleason
2 years 4 months ago

O'Reilly vacation began on Spy Wednesday as his dismissal was under way. The handshake was too late 'the handshake did not get him a bigger go-away money, did not save his reputation either. Too little, too late and good riddance.

Carlos Orozco
2 years 4 months ago

He was sacked with justification. Many in the media were quite jealous of his professional success (although I always found his analysis dull and superficial) and happily paraded his dismissal.
However, I don't recall the MSM being incensed when a former President had predatorial behaviour towards women and his wife (the media's darling during 2016) setup "crisis rooms", wrecking fear into the victims in order to keep them silent.

Vincent Gaglione
2 years 4 months ago

If this comment borders on "schadenfreude", you will pardon me, I hope.

The O’Reilly firing for sexually inappropriate behaviors on the same day as his handshake with the Pope is probably one of the more emblematic images for me of the Catholic right these days. How ironic from the man who so often pretended to be a defender of the true Faith.

A non-Catholic friend of mine expressed shock that the Pope shook hands with a sexist and misogynist worth 13 million dollars of hush money by his own employer and out of his own pockets. It certainly didn’t aid any good public relations regarding the Church and women’s issues. It isn’t widely understood that fortunately the Pope probably had no idea who he was.

More irony, a former Fox news personality, now the head of the Vatican press office no less, claims no facilitation of the handshake. Had he realized long ago the Fox ferry was drifting and smartly jumped ship into the barque of Peter!

O’Reilly has publicly lambasted various popes with half-truths and slanted commentary because they didn’t support USA wars or anti refugee and immigration policies. But the Archbishop of New York provided him an opportunity to shake hands anonymously with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. The archdiocesan spokesman says that the bishop does it for anyone who requests to attend the papal audience. Big difference to get in the group with whom the Pope shakes hands, eh! Of course O’Reilly apparently has been a generous benefactor of various charities of the archdiocese. Draw your own conclusions.

The innuendoes, gossip, and stories about the man’s personal and public behaviors may become the fodder for his next book, “The Last Days of O’Reilly on Fox”.

J Cosgrove
2 years 3 months ago

It will be interesting to see what happens. These black listings have been failing as people sign up to buy products on the blacklist or in the case of O'Reilly are signing up for his website.

It will also be interesting if Fox survives the Murdoch sons and if another version of Fox rises up on another network.

My question is, "Why is this a story on America?" Hardly seems worthy of a Catholic magazine. That this article appears on this site is more of an insight into America and its publication policies than it is on O'Reilly?


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