Donald Trump, the US president, will seek a meeting with Pope Francis when he travels to Europe next month, in a move that could herald a smoother relationship between two world leaders who are sharply at odds over immigration and climate change.
Sean Spicer, press secretary, said at the daily briefing in Washington on Wednesday that the White House would be “reaching out to the Vatican to see if an audience with the Pope can be accommodated”. Promising more details in the future, Mr Spicer added : “We would be honoured to have an audience with his Holiness”.
In late May, Mr Trump will travel to Brussels for the NATO summit and then to Taormina, Sicily, for the summit of G7 leaders. But while the White House had confirmed shortly after inauguration that Mr Trump would be in Italy for the G7, it had not committed to meeting the Pope on the same trip. This had raised the possibility – and belief among both Vatican and US officials – that Mr Trump may not meet the 80-year old Argentine pontiff – a big break in a diplomatic tradition that has lasted since the Second World War.
Officials on both sides had noted that the obstacles to a meeting were logistical rather substantive. The Vatican normally accepts requests for audiences with the Pope from foreign heads of state. Nonetheless, there had been speculation that the disagreements between the Pope and Mr Trump – especially over immigration, climate change – might have also played in a role in the delay in arranging a meeting.