Why isn't Biden attending Pope Benedict's funeral?

Pope Benedict's funeral
(Image credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

President Biden's absence from Pope Benedict's Jan. 5 funeral has raised rumors and criticism from right-wing media like Newsmax, which claimed Benedict asked Biden not to come. But while the president's decision was ultimately in keeping with the late pope's wishes, his reason for not attending the funeral was not because he was specifically uninvited.

When asked Wednesday about his absence, Biden told Owen Jensen, a reporter from the Catholic television network ETWN, "You know why," before explaining that his presence "takes an entourage of a thousand people to show up" and that it "would move everything in the wrong direction." The Independent described the exchange as somewhat "tense," before noting Jensen has had a history of combative back-and-forths with White House press secretaries regarding issues like abortion.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donnelly would attend the funeral representing the U.S., per Newsweek. Jean-Pierre emphasized that this is "in line with the wishes of the late pope and the Vatican."

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According to Catholic News Agency, Vatican representative Matteo Bruni said the pope emeritus had requested that "everything be simple, both with regard to the funeral as well as the other celebrations and gestures during this time of pain." Only official delegations from Italy and Germany were to be in attendance, but some world leaders also planned to go in an unofficial capacity.

In a statement following the pope's death, Biden said Benedict "will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith."

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