Pope Francis met on Saturday with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who has come under criticism from some bishops in the United States for her support for abortion rights.
Their meeting took place several weeks before Joe Biden is expected to meet the Pope while the US president is in Rome for talks between leaders of the Group of 20 major economies.
Biden, the second Catholic US president, has said he is personally opposed to abortion but, as a politician, cannot impose his views.
Pelosi, who has five children, has said she supports a woman’s right to choose.
Biden’s administration and Pelosi have urged judges to block a new Texas law that bars abortions from six weeks, saying it is unconstitutional. The ban was temporarily reinstated on Friday by a conservative-leaning appeals court.
The Catholic Church teaches that human life begins at the moment of conception and Biden and Pelosi have been criticised by conservative Catholic media and US conservative bishops, some of whom say neither should be allowed to receive communion.
Last month the Pope, asked about the US communion debate, told reporters abortion is “murder”, even soon after conception, and appeared to criticise US Catholic bishops for dealing with the issue in a political rather than pastoral way.
“Communion is not a prize for the perfect … communion is a gift, the presence of Jesus and his Church”, the Pope said.
In June, a divided conference of US Roman Catholic bishops voted to draft a statement on communion that some bishops say should specifically admonish Catholic politicians, including Biden. They take up the issue again next month.
In a statement, Pelosi said the audience with the Pope was a”spiritual, personal and official honor”. She praised his defence of the environment, immigrants, refugees and the poor.
The Vatican announced Pelosi’s audience with the Pope in its daily bulletin but gave no details.