Biden jokes he is only Irish man pope has met ‘who’s never drank’ at Vatican meeting

US president meets pontiff amid efforts to set green agenda ahead of Cop26 summit

US president Joe Biden has joked that he is the only Irish man Pope Francis has met "who's never had a drink" as the two men met in the Vatican.

Pope Francis replied by referencing that whiskey comes from Ireland, in a jovial exchange between the leaders as they exchanged gifts.

Mr Biden has met the pontiff before but not as US president, and the encounter came at a resonant time, with both attempting to set a green agenda ahead of the landmark Cop26 climate summit despite pushback from conservative critics.

Mr Biden also exchanged jokes with some of the pontiff’s attendants after he arrived in a presidential convoy to the Apostolic Palace behind St Peter’s Basilica in the heart of the city-state, according to the Vatican news service.


The Democrat presented the pope with a commemorative coin and said: “You are the most significant warrior for peace that I’ve ever met.”

The coin included a reference to Mr Biden's home political turf of Delaware and the military unit in which his late son Beau served before his death from a brain tumour in 2015.

“The tradition is – and I’m only kidding about this – next time I see you if you don’t have it, you have to buy the drinks,” Mr Biden said as he presented the coin.

“I’m the only Irish man you’ve ever met who’s never had a drink,” he quipped, speaking to the pontiff through a translator as the two leaders clasped hands.

“Because the Irish brought whiskey,” Pope Francis replied in Italian, as aides laughed at the exchange.

Mr Biden by his own account has never drunk alcohol, explaining while on the campaign trail in 2008: “There are enough alcoholics in my family.”

The US president meets with the leaders of the world's largest economies in Rome this weekend to seek consensus on sharing vaccines and how to combat climate change, in a G20 summit before the start of the Cop26 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times