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Biden remembers Pope Benedict XVI as ‘renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church’

By Arlette Saenz, CNN

President Joe Biden mourned the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, saying in a statement Saturday that the late pontiff “will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith.”

Benedict died Saturday at the age of 95 in a Vatican monastery, according to a statement from the Vatican. He was the first pope in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, doing so in 2013.

Biden, the second Catholic to serve as president of the United States, reflected on his meeting with Benedict at the Vatican in 2011, recalling the late pontiff’s “generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation.”

“As he remarked during his 2008 visit to the White House, ‘the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity.’ May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all,” Biden said Saturday.

Benedict’s funeral will be held on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City at 9:30 a.m. local time, the Vatican statement said. The funeral will be led by Pope Francis.

Benedict was a polarizing figure, hailed by conservatives who admired his erudite writings and careful theology. But he faced criticism, particularly in the postmodern West, for his staunch insistence on fidelity to church doctrine and his willingness to silence dissent. He also came under fire for his handling of the sexual abuse crisis that engulfed the Catholic Church during his years as a senior cleric.

Benedict met with three sitting US presidents — in addition to future President Biden — during his time as leader of the Catholic Church.

“It was like going back to theology class,” Biden told America, a Jesuit publication, in 2015 of his meeting with Benedict. “And by the way, he wasn’t judgmental. He was open. I came away enlivened from the discussion.”

Benedict met with his first sitting president in 2007 when George W. Bush traveled to the Vatican. Benedict made his only papal visit to the United States the following year. Bush took the rare step of meeting the pope when his plane arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, DC, and he later welcomed Benedict to the White House with an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn where thousands gathered and sang “Happy Birthday” to the pope, who turned 81 that day.

Later that year, Bush visited Benedict at the Vatican, where the two men strolled through the Vatican Gardens and met privately for roughly 30 minutes.

In 2009, President Barack Obama met with Benedict for 30 minutes at the Vatican. Officials at the time said their meeting included discussions on addressing poverty and the Middle East, as well as issues such as abortion and stem cell research.

Abortion also appeared to be a topic of discussion during Biden’s meeting with Benedict. In his 2015 interview with America, Biden said the two men spoke about Catholic doctrine and the then-vice president’s view that he should not impose his own beliefs on other people, including on issues such as abortion.

Benedict talked about Biden’s abortion stance after he became president in 2021.

“It’s true, he’s Catholic and observant. And personally, he is against abortion,” Benedict said in an interview with The Tablet, a Catholic publication. “But as president, he tends to present himself in continuity with the line of the Democratic Party … and on gender policy, we still don’t really understand what his position is.”

Biden also spoke of Benedict at a White House event this summer, calling him a “great theologian, a very conservative theologian.” The president shared that Benedict had asked him for advice when they met.

“‘Well, one piece of advice,’ I said, ‘I’d go easy on the nuns. They’re more popular than you are,'” Biden recounted to laughter.

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CNN’s Jack Forrest, Daniel Burke and Hada Messia contributed to this report.

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