ROME (AP) – The Vatican abruptly canceled the scheduled live broadcast of US President Joe Biden meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday, the latest restriction on media coverage of the Holy See that has sparked complaints from journalists accredited by the White House and the Vatican.
The live broadcast of Biden’s visit on Friday was cut to cover only the arrival of the president’s motorcade in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace. 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.
The protocol also meant an 18-month ban on any independent media from being in the room for the start and end of the hearing, as would normally be the case for a visiting head of state.
Canceled, live coverage of Biden greeting Francis in the palace’s throne room, along with live footage of the two seated to begin their private talks in Francis’s library, when the cameras reportedly ceased to function.
The Vatican said it would provide edited footage of the meeting after the fact to accredited media. Bruni did not say why the Vatican initially announced fuller live coverage to recall her on the eve of the visit.
Biden, the second Catholic president of the United States, has met Francis three times before, but this will be his first as president.
The audience was closely watched as U.S. bishops were due to meet in a few weeks for their annual fall convention, with one of the agenda items inspired by Conservatives who argue that Biden’s support for rights to the abortion should disqualify him from receiving Communion. While no documents from the bishops’ conference are supposed to mention Biden by name, it is possible that there is a clear message of rebuke.
Francis strongly supported the church’s opposition to abortion, calling it “murder”. But he said bishops should be pastors, not politicians. As a result, Biden-Francis body language could have given a clue to their state of mind before the meeting.
The Vatican has provided live television coverage of visits by top heads of state for years, including President Donald Trump, and had scheduled such coverage on Friday for Biden and for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is also in Rome for a group of 20 meeting.
Asked to comment on access to the Vatican during a meeting with reporters on Air Force One, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the administration was “actively engaged” in the matter and would see what happened. Friday would bring.
“The United States will always advocate for free press access, and in particular for our good friends of the American press who travel with us on these long flights, to be able to capture and chronicle the president’s commitments,” he said. he declared.
A live broadcast was particularly important because the Vatican has banned independent photographers and journalists from accessing papal audiences with leaders since early 2020, even though external news media are allowed to participate in others. papal events.
It is during these times in the Pope’s library that reporters can view the gifts being exchanged, watch the official photograph being taken, and hear remarks as leaders arrive and depart to get a feel for the flow of the visit. Only the official papal photographer and Vatican videographers are now allowed in.
The Vatican Correspondents Association protested the cancellation of this access to the swimming pool and several media, including the Associated Press, officially complained about the cut on Thursday of the live broadcast of Biden-Pape and asked for explanations.
White House Correspondents Association chief Steven Portnoy of CBS News Radio expressed disappointment at the lack of live coverage as well as the lack of access to independent media. Biden is traveling with his own group of reporters who would normally be allowed into the Pope’s library for the start and end of the hearing alongside journalists accredited to the Vatican.
In a series of tweets, Portnoy noted that the White House roaming pool was fully vaccinated and that such an important meeting between a Catholic president and the head of the 1.3 billion-strong Catholic Church “demands a independent coverage “.
PA correspondent Zeke Miller contributed from Rome.