Pope Francis is joined by then-Vice President Joe Biden after addressing Congress on Sept. 24, 2015, during his first visit to the United States.
Pope Francis is joined by then-Vice President Joe Biden after addressing Congress on Sept. 24, 2015, during his first visit to the United States. (Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden is set to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican this week as part of a larger trip to Europe. Though they plan to discuss topics such as climate change and poverty, the meeting also takes place amid a debate over whether Biden – the nation’s second Catholic president – should receive Holy Communion. Biden’s support of abortion rights has prompted some Catholic clergy to argue he should be denied Communion, but in September, the pope said politics has no place in questions about who gets the Eucharist.

Ahead of the meeting, here are some recent Pew Research Center survey findings about Biden, the pope, the debate over whether the president should receive Communion, and more:

  • Overall, 64% of U.S. adults said they think Biden is at least somewhat religious, according to a March 2021 survey. But views differed widely by partisan affiliation. Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party (88%) said Biden is at least somewhat religious, including 45% who said he is very religious. By contrast, almost two-thirds of people who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party (63%) said Biden is not too or not at all religious.
A bar chart showing that most Democrats say Biden is at least somewhat religious and mentions his faith about the right amount; most Republicans disagree
  • Among U.S. Catholics, 69% said in the same March survey that Biden is at least somewhat religious. But views again differed substantially by party. About nine-in-ten Catholic Democrats (89%) said Biden is at least somewhat religious, including 51% who said he is very religious. Among Catholic Republicans, a 56% majority said Biden is not too or not at all religious.
  • Two-thirds of Catholics said in March 2021 that Biden should be allowed to receive Communion during Mass, while 29% said he should not be allowed to do this. However, among Catholic Republicans, a slim majority (55%) said Biden’s abortion stance should disqualify him from receiving Communion; just 11% of Catholic Democrats said the same.
A bar chart showing that most U.S. Catholics think Biden's abortion views should not disqualify him from Communion
A table showing that views of Pope Francis are stable among Catholics across the board
  • Among U.S. Catholics, views of Francis have remained fairly steady recently. Overall, 83% of Catholics had a favorable view of the pope while just 14% expressed an unfavorable view, according to the same September survey. That was little changed from March (82% vs. 14%, respectively). The September survey found ongoing political polarization in the way Catholics view the pope: Catholic Democrats were 20 percentage points more likely than Catholic Republicans to have a favorable view of Francis (91% vs. 71%).
  • In the September 2021 survey, Catholic Republicans were less inclined than Catholic Democrats to say “yes” when asked whether positive words like “compassionate,” “humble” and “open-minded” describe Pope Francis – though majorities of Catholics in both parties said the pope does embody these traits. Catholic Republicans were more likely than Catholic Democrats to ascribe certain negative attributes, including “out of touch” and “naive,” to Francis. Nearly half of Catholic Republicans said the pope is “too liberal” (49%), while just 16% of Catholic Democrats said this.
  • Biden and Francis plan to discuss climate change, an issue on which the pope has been outspoken. In a 2017 survey, U.S. Catholics’ views on climate change also differed by party. Eight-in-ten Catholic Democrats said the Earth is warming mostly because of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, but just 22% of Catholic Republicans said the same.
Carrie Blazina  is a digital producer at Pew Research Center.