Obama to meet Pope Francis at Vatican

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President Obama will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican at the end of March, the White House confirmed on Tuesday.

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Obama's first encounter with the new pope will come on the tail end of a European trip that will also take the president to the Netherlands and Belgium. Vice President Biden attended the pope's inauguration last March.

“The president looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality,” the White House said in a statement.

The March 27 visit comes amid sharp disagreements between the administration and the Catholic church on issues such as the health law's contraception coverage and the U.S. government's tacit support for gay marriage and legalizing marijuana.

Catholic leaders are also concerned about allegations that the National Security Agency spied on the Vatican and about the State Department's decision to consolidate the U.S. embassy at the Vatican inside the larger embassy to Italy, for security and financial reasons.

Democrats, however, have felt buoyed by the new pope's focus on combating poverty and his criticism of unbridled capitalism.

Obama will first participate in a Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by the Dutch government, where world leaders will “highlight progress made to secure nuclear materials and commit to future steps to prevent nuclear terrorism,” according to the White House. He will then head to Brussels on March 26 for a U.S.-EU Summit with the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission.

The president is expected to meet with Dutch, Belgian and Italian officials during his trip, as well as with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Here's the full readout from the White House: 

Statement by the Press Secretary on the President's Travel to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy in March 2014

As part of the United States’ ongoing consultations with our allies and partners in Europe and beyond, President Obama will travel to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy in March 2014.  While in the Netherlands on March 24-25, the President will participate in the Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by the Dutch government, where world leaders will highlight progress made to secure nuclear materials and commit to future steps to prevent nuclear terrorism.  He will also hold bilateral events with Dutch officials. 

From the Netherlands, the President will travel to Brussels on March 26 for a U.S.-EU Summit with the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission.  This will be President Obama’s first visit to the EU institutions.  While in Belgium, the President will also hold bilateral events with Belgian Government officials and with the NATO Secretary General.    

The President will continue on to Vatican City on March 27 to meet with His Holiness, Pope Francis.  The President looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality.

In Rome, the President will meet with President Napolitano and Prime Minister Letta.  

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