U.S. Vice President Joe Biden meets Pope Francis after both leaders spoke at a conference on adult stem cell research at the Vatican April 29. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope meets American vice president Biden

By  David Gibson, Religion News Service
  • April 29, 2016

When U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is honoured next month at the University of Notre Dame, the icon of Catholic higher education in the United States, he will arrive amid sharp criticisms over his appearance.

Even the local bishop in Indiana said the university is “wrong” to give a platform to a Catholic politician who supports abortion rights and gay marriage.

But it may be a sign of the shifting dynamics in the Catholic Church that Biden was welcomed Friday to the Vatican to address a Church-sponsored conference on cutting-edge therapies to treat diseases such as cancer, and he was warmly greeted by the local bishop of Rome, aka Pope Francis.

Biden in turn praised the pontiff, and noted that the Pope met with him and his family during Francis’ visit to the United States last September and “provided us with more comfort” after the death of Biden’s son Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer nearly a year ago.

And while the conference’s themes — stem cell research and “regenerative medicine” — dealt with a host of delicate ethical issues that held the potential for controversy, the two leaders in their respective speeches focused on better access to the best treatments for all people, regardless of economic status.

Promising new treatments that are emerging every year cannot be available “only to the privileged and the powerful,” Biden told some of the 350 top cell therapy doctors, researchers, philanthropists, ethicists and activists who gathered in a huge Vatican audience hall.

Among the bold face names at Friday’s event and the three-day conference, which focuses on cell therapy techniques, were TV personality Katie Couric, whose husband died of colon cancer, as well as digital mogul Sean Parker and U2 guitarist The Edge — also known as David Evans — whose daughter battled leukemia.

In the wake of Beau Biden’s death, President Barack Obama tapped his vice-president to lead a new U.S. “Cancer Moonshot Initiative” aimed at finding cures and treatments for the various forms of the disease, and Biden’s personal passion emerged during his talk.

He called for far greater international coordination on cancer research and data-sharing to promote breakthroughs and get the information to doctors and patients. “Treatments have to be affordable,” he said, and research should not be held behind paywalls and in laboratories while people suffer.
“Why do you wait?” Biden asked, his voice rising and reflecting a common frustration over the slow pace in pushing out new of research. “What is the rationale?”

In a similar vein, Francis followed Biden’s talk by stressing the importance of “access to care.”

The pontiff said the world needs to oppose “an economy of exclusion and inequality, one that he said “victimizes people when the mechanism of profit prevails over the value of human life.”

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