Blinken meets Pope Francis, gets VIP tour of Sistine Chapel

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday received VIP treatment at the Vatican, getting a private tour of the Sistine Chapel before he sat down for closed-door talks with Pope Francis.

Blinken was the first high-level official of President Joe Biden’s administration to have a private audience with the pontiff.

There was no immediate details from either side about the two men’s discussions in the Apostolic Palace.

Last year, when Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo came to the Vatican, he wasn’t granted private time with Pope Francis. At the time, Vatican officials said that was because Holy See didn’t want to give any impression of favoritism only weeks before the U.S. presidential election that brought Biden to power.

But China was a thorny issue between both sides at the time. Pompeo had undiplomatically blasted the Vatican for what he said was a lessening of its moral authority by signing an accord with Beijing over the nominations of Chinese bishops. Pompeo called on the Holy See to take a tougher stand against Chinese restrictions on religious freedom.